Whilst I’m out of the country on a trip to a mysterious undisclosed location, the daily blogging will be achieved through a series of travel-related posts, thanks to the kindness of my friends and family, and the wonders of post-scheduling technology.
This installment of The Travel Diaries is brought to you by Fiona Lynne. Fiona is a British women living with her Danish husband in little Luxembourg. She plans weddings and events, teaches at her church and writes for various blogs and online magazines. She loves gathering people together to celebrate and collaborate, and loves nothing better than when her big dining table is crammed with people talking and drinking good wine together.
She blogs at far far away and tweets at @fiona_lynne.
A Thousand Stories
We walked up the dusty path, stones and dirt getting into my sandals, one hand holding my long skirt above my ankles to try and prevent it caking in dirt. A small grubby hand caught mine as it swung by my side and I looked down to see a shy smile tossed up in my direction before the little girl again concentrated on her steps – the path really being too narrow for two, but holding my hand seemed to be worth the hassle of being caught in briars and branches every few steps.
Her t-shirt said “Love is all you need” in confident large letters. I looked up the path we were heading along and thought perhaps it wasn’t all she needed. A school, would be nice. Maybe a health centre within half a days’ walk, so that she’d not have to live through more sibling deaths. Something to grow in this dusty barren land, so that her parents would have something to sell at the market, perhaps.
But today is the day clean water comes to her village. And this dusty path which looks so insignificant marks the pipeline that is bringing fresh water up from the newly-dug well in the valley. Today she’ll drink clean, crystal-clear water for the first time in her life. And it will taste a lot like love…
We’re climbing another path, this one a rich dark red, the moist earth yielding beneath our feet with each step. A gaggle of shy children watching us as we walk again but now they’re pointing out the crops – passion fruit, sweet potato, bananas. And here are the cattle, and the pigs. We’re on litter number four already, they say proudly through an interpreter.
At the end of our climb, we sit under the tall green trees in the cool breeze, look out over the valley and sip a slightly-warm fanta. We hear stories: of piglets given away as gifts to hostile neighbours, of no child deaths in the last four years since the development organisation came to the village, of entrepreneurial women and proud fathers and teenagers graduating school for the first time in this community.
The women gather around us, babies on hips, bright cotton scarves wrapped around their shoulders. They reach out hands and pull us into hugs with those beautiful words: Amahoro, amahoro. Peace, peace.
Yes, peace in a country that has been ravaged by genocide and civil war. Peace for a tribe that struggles as an unheard minority. Peace for a community that was once hated by their neighbours.
The sound of drums gets louder and strong male voices filter through the hot afternoon breeze until we see them round the corner of the house – Burundian drummers, in their national costume, huge drums balanced high on their heads. They dance and drum and leap impossibly high and their beat is pride and their song is joy.
We clap and cheer and whoop, standing alongside the friends and colleagues of our hosts – lawyers and business men and women, university staff and NGO directors. They smile at our excitement and clap along with us.
Afterwards we sip bitter lemon and talk in my broken French about their work, their lives, their hopes for their country. These are the friends who responded with overwhelming generosity when the central market of Bujumbura burnt to the ground a few months ago. These are the friends with vision and wisdom for the development of their economy, their public services, their communities.
We’re pulled up to play with the drummers, our beat hopelessly out of time with theirs, but they laugh and humour us, and teach us the songs and I don’t know the words, but I recognise this one: amahoro. And I beat that drum and sway side to side alongside these proud men and each step feels like hope.
We went to Burundi last month with eyes and ears open to see and hear the many and varied stories of this nation. The communities we walked through, the faces we smiled at, the hands we clasped, the names we heard – each told a different story, a different tale of life here in this beautiful small central African country.
“How was your trip”, I’m asked by everyone I see these weeks. And I don’t know how to answer without taking a couple of hours. Because there isn’t a single story that I can tell you that will encompass the whole and the danger of a single story is you might think that is all there is to Burundi.
Burundi was barren dusty earth and it was rich fertile soil. Burundi was children dying before their fifth birthday and it was healthy strong children graduating school. Burundi was small business owners losing everything in a market fire and it was successful business owners stepping up to ensure they could start over. Burundi was men drumming at a garden party and women dancing in a half-finished school hall. Burundi was echoes of a violent past and it was peace peace spoken at each greeting.
St Augustine says, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” But when we do travel, the pages fly. Each moment a new story, each day a new chapter. And without each one, the book is not complete. And so I soak up every word, every face, every name. Each pair of eyes I look into is another line written in my book and another way I will never be the same again.
Burundi was many things. It was Love in a glass of water. It was Peace in a litter of piglets. It was Hope in a marketplace being rebuilt.
And it was a thousand stories told and remembered.
In summary: stories.