From Bare Feet to Facebook: Three Generations in Burundi

By Stanley A Stalla | Jan 02, 2013

Bujumbura, Burundi — from "Stan, Writing from Burundi, Africa"

On December 31st, I sent out an introductory paragraph of who I am and where I'm writing from.  Today, I'd like to share something with you about a Burundian family I've come to know, here in the capital city of Bujumbura.

For Christmas Day, my Burundian friend Audace Mpoziriniga (try pronouncing THAT surname five times in ten seconds!!!) invited me to a Catholic mass and then to his house for Christmas dinner.  Though the service was in the local language Kirundi, having spent a couple of decades attending mass with my Catholic family, I followed the liturgy pretty easily.  What was lovely, of course, was the African flavor to the mass -- native dancers in costume, dancing in front of the altar, and several songs with a special rhythm, such that the chocked-full pews, replete with people dressed special for the day, were swaying right to left to right as they sang.  Very moving, despite the tropical warmth and press of many bodies.

Afterwards, Audace drove me home, where -- in typical African fashion -- a whole bunch of people popped in and out throughout the afternoon.  Outside, in the driveway, a Senegalese woman was stewing a pot of four, just-plucked chickens, balanced by three stones over a wood fire.  She was making chicken djaussa -- a national, Senegalese dish, and it sure was delish!  Kids coming and going; Kirundi (native language of Burundi) and Woloff (one of Senegal's national languages) being mixed with the common language of French; simultaneous discussions of English soccer teams and Senegalese economic challenges and a bit of US politics -- all made for quite a cacophony of sounds, sights, and ideas!

One of my lasting impressions through all that was a few minutes, sitting on a rock, talking with Audace's father.  Audace had picked him up the day before, from his village in the mountains, to celebrate Christmas in the capital city and to show off his new house.  No one (including his father) knows this man's actual age.  Back in his era, there was no habit of recording births.  However, Audace believes that he's somewhere in his 90s.  There we were, side by side, me speaking no Kirundi and him no French, but grinning and back slapping and relying for translation services on a 7-eary-old grandson who was really more interested in the candy in my pocket than in bridging the generational and nationality gap that separated us.  I've pieced together a story, nonetheless, of my sophisticated, quadri-lingual colleague (Audace) growing up in a rural setting with no shoes, playing stick games and rolling tires just like all the other village kids.  As a kid, twice a week, Audace would walk barefoot, side by side with his mother, to a market ten miles down a dusty pathway.  On his head he balanced a large basket of sweet potatos.  After an afternoon in the market, making a dollar or two to buy some staples, mother and son would retrace the long trek home, sometimes arriving after nightfall. 

As much as I enjoyed the chicken djaussa and the chit-chat about politics and economics and the very African twist to the Catholic mass, my favorite memory of the day is sitting on that rock, next to a man who is in his tenth decade, a man who has survived unimagineable hardships (Burundi has, after all, suffered a couple of decades of murderous ethnic violence), yet still full of smiles and claps for my back.  Funny, how later in the day, Audace's oldest son took me aside, wanting to share with me his Facebook name, so that I would "friend him."  My, how life has changed for this family, over the span of three generations!  But so typical, too, for Africa on the move.

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