Saturday, February 19, 2011


Kite Boarding on Lake Tanganyika

We spent a week in Burundi, first in the capital, Bujumbura, then driving around the countryside enjoying the beautiful scenery and the friendly people.  It seems that most of the expats in Bujumbura hang out at the clubs on Lake Tanganyika and further inland muzungos weren't as common.  The only ones we saw during our three days in the country worked for CARE or Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). 

Pigs at the Seminary barn
We stopped a great seminary in Gitega (Grand Seminary Jean Paul II) and the Abbot gave us a tour of his huge campus.  There were over 40 buildings and it serves as the largest seminary in the country.  The seminary is self-sufficient and was adding new buildings to accommodate guests that come for conferences.  

We drove back to Bujumbura on improved dirt roads with great drainage and metal bridges with only the occasional delay caused by kids herding their cows along the road.  In the mountain passes above town vehicles were stopped by tax collectors (our drive called them "bandits") and it seemed that every 1/4 mile someone had a sign on the ground by a pickup truck and they wanted to collect a different tax- charcoal, oil, banana beer, wood, etc... causing prices in Bujumbura to be 2x the price of commodities in the country.  
Charcoal cost 7000 francs in the country and 15,000 francs in the city
During our trip we also visited a rock on a bluff overlooking a muddy brown river supposedly visited by Stanley and Livingston (as evidenced by their names and a date being carved into the rock) and the Olympic Center on the lake.  The Olympic center featured a soccer field and a building, but the building was closed.  It didn't look like the field had been used in some time as some of the locals had started to plant corn along the outside of the field.
Livingston Rock
Olympic Center
I enjoyed the many public service announcement billboard signs that were posted around the country.  They were locally painted and warned people to use bed nets to stop malaria, breastfeed their babies, wash their hands, and watch out for men with money who will pay to have sex because then you'll get AIDS.

Burundi seemed like a nice country, however it is facing many challenges.  The government had sold, and then resold the frequency spectrum for the country causing the major communications countries to leave causing very poor and sporadic Internet connectivity.  Sometimes without warning the cell phones and land telephone network would stop working.  The day I left the credit card and financial lines out of the country were disconnected so I could not get cash from the banks or use my credit card to pay my hotel bill.
Another major problem for the country is the land dispute problem caused by returning refugees who have a legal right to their former land and the current occupants who also have a legal right to the land.  The court system is jammed up with cases like these where both claimants have a legal right to the land so some have taken to resolving the situation by lobbing grenades over walls in the middle of the night.  I was told not to worry because the grenades and shootings weren't targeting muzungos.

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