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Showing posts from October, 2009

Sometimes We Only Have Ourselves

On Monday evening just as we arrived home we received a message. The guards at a friend’s house had called the guards at our house. The housestaff was concerned because they hadn’t seen Madame all day and her bedroom door was closed. Her husband was out of town and not expected back for a few days. We decided to stop by the house to make sure everything was okay. Another friend was with us. We hoped to be just some folks stopping by, all neighborly like, but there was a palpable feel in the car that we were more like a search party.

When we first pulled up to the house, I noticed the outside porch lights on and felt relief, thinking she'd turned them on. But then Mike mentioned that the guards probably turned them on. We banged on the front door, no answer. We banged on side doors and back doors, no answer. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I heard a faint sound from inside the house. They have a lot of animals, though, including a noisy parrot, so I couldn’t confirm the sound. But…

How to Pick Up Chicks

We have a new chick. The previous chick died shortly after I announced it to the world. The mother hen, in her exuberance to protect the chick, kept stepping on it. Apparently there have been several chicks that have died even before they were old enough to leave the coop.
A couple weekends ago when some friends came by the house with their kids, the kids stopped and squealed, "A chick!" This was the first I'd seen or heard of it, but there it was. A little yellow speck hopping around after the hen. It already looked larger and stronger than the previous chick, so we had hope for it.
The days have gone by with us respecting the hen and the chick and watching it grow from a distance. It's getting larger and straying further from the protection of the hen, but not too far.
Yesterday some friends came by with their young son, almost two years old. He likes to chase the rooster around the yard but this was the first time he'd seen the chick. The rooster and hen were not…

Soup Trees and Buzzing Bees

When you're out running or walking, and you smell something horrible, and you rule out sewage and burning garbage, it might be what Mike and I refer to as a soup tree. This is a tree that smells terrible when it blooms. It doesn't smell like piping hot tasty soup. It smells like old chicken soup that's been sitting on the counter for three days. 
And there's some kind of local bee that loves it. At least, I assume they are bees. The ridiculously loud buzzing sounds coming from the tree indicates, to me at least, zillions of bees. You know how in the fall in New England you might have a bunch of bees swarming around an apple tree? It's kind of like that, only it doesn't smell like sweet fermenting apples.
It's soup and bee season again. I noticed one smelly, buzzing tree on my run on Monday and a second one while running yesterday. We've also been catching periodic whiffs of them from our terrace. Yesterday when I ran under one, I noticed little green spec…

Best Mountain View

Yesterday morning we finally saw the spectacular mountain view that’s been eluding us throughout this so-called rainy season. It gets so hazy during the dry season that we can't see the mountains and it's easy to forget the Congo is just a few kilometers away. I never get tired of the fact that I can see another country from my back porch. (This photo was taken by a friend on a previous wonderful view day from his great back porch view.)

Unfortunately the view is gone again today. This rainy season has brought all of the mosquitos but very little of the nice views and pleasant temperatures that a rainy season is supposed to provide.

Singing & Dancing with Umudeyo

On Friday night we went to a show at the Centre Culturel Francais. It was a group called Umudeyo, a local group that combines traditional Burundian music and dancing with modern music and dancing. Electric guitars onstage beside gourds and sticks.
It was pretty awesome. The dancers were particularly talented and athletic. The songs all told stories and even though they were in Kirundi it was easy to see what they were saying. They were conventional tales of man-woman relationships, youngsters versus elders, and the ever-present land dispute. Apparently these themes are hilarious to Burundians. While I enjoyed the singing and dancing, I just didn't get the jokes. 
Umudeyo performs at CCF every couple of months. And with the cafe attached, there's a full night of seeing a show and drinking Amstel.

A University of Hope in Africa

I collect books and manage an internal library for my office. When my office was packed to the gills and people were still bringing books in to me, my boss gave me permission to find a library here in town to donate them to. 
My French tutor is a professor of English and Theology at one of the universities here, Hope Africa University. The school teaches in both French and English and they are in severe need of all sorts of books, but especially English-language books. The first person I turned to when I had some books to offload was, of course, my tutor. I had two Webster's dictionaries -- one of them a massive third edition -- and some reference books on Africa. He said the students would love them.
On Friday visited the university for the first time. My French tutor arranged for me to deliver the books in person to the headmaster. It was so great to see the school and meet some of the students and other teachers. The headmaster gave me a tour of the three rooms that make up the l…

Bicycling in Burundi

I have a guest poster. It's Mike! He wanted to share his mountain bike riding adventures. (He posted this on a mountain bike forum as well.) He's got some awesome photos to share at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!
As most of you know, I've been living in Burundi for a little over a year. Living here was an adjustment and work was hectic, and the security situation left us quite restricted. I just wasn't in a place to even think about biking. But things have gotten better and we security goons have been easing back the restrictions for those of us under our provenance. So I reassembled my Turner and rebuilt my Evil into a singlespeed, and we've begun exploring. I take a few security precautions and items of equipment while we're out there, but I still honestly feel that during the day we're just as safe as anywhere else. Medical care and transportation, however, barely exist, so we do play it safe risk-wise while riding.

Burundi is entirely mountainous, except …

Hiking Kibira Forest

Recently we packed up our hats and waterbottles and headed out past the village of Bugarama for a guided tour of the Kibira forest with Burundi's own crocodile hunter, Patrice Faye. The forest is beautiful and amazing. It's one of the only bits of undeveloped land in the country. It's an old forest and has a primeval feeling about it. More than one person made a Jurassic Park reference. I honestly would not have been surprised to see a brontosaurus emerge from the leafy canopy.
We started the walk through a tea plantation. I've started recognizing tea bushes by their alarmingly bright green leaves. The path through the plantation is cut lower than the vegetation, so the bushes hang over you. You know you're in a jungle as soon as you step off the road onto the path. The path is nearly invisible and the tea bushes envelope you. Even Patrice walked by the path and one of the local guides brought him back to it. And he does this trek almost every weekend!
From wikipedia…

Careful, there's a beverage here

Last night we had our much anticipated and much planned La Fete Lebowski, a celebration of all things Big Lebowski. We wore robes, we (Wii) bowled, we watched the film, and we made white russians (which we call mzungus here), a drink with which no Lebowski celebration can be without.
We stockpiled vodka and Kahlua for months. When I traveled through Nairobi earlier this week I grabbed an additional bottle of each from the duty-free shop and it's a good thing, because we opened those last two bottles. They can both be purchased here but can be quite expensive and may not be top quality.
When making white russians in a country where you can't run down to the Ralphs for some half-and-half, it's important to test your recipe ahead of time with the different milks you have available. As far as I'm concerned, white russians made from irradiated pouch milk are utterly disgusting. We decided to use our fresh milk source and everyone raved about how great our white russians were…

Mall Culture Shock

I'm in Nairobi for a couple days. I arrived this afternoon. Tomorrow I'm taking a work-related exam that I've been preparing for for weeks. Nay, months probably. Today should be a day of relaxation and mental preparation. I was doing fine with the relaxation bit until I left my hotel this afternoon to explore the shopping center next door. It's been a long time since I've been in a big mall-like atmosphere and I was looking forward to the change. 
I barely lasted an hour in the mall-slash-food-court-slash-supermarket -- with a movie theater, gym, water slide, and mini-golf course -- before I'd had enough. While I enjoyed the novelty of shopping in a gigantic grocery store and picking up some Thai take-away, I didn't enjoy the crowds. A mall is a mall, and the crowd in Nairobi is just as obnoxious as the crowd at Potomac Mills in Northern Virginia. At the time I was there, the mall seemed like it sprawled on forever. But now that I think about it, I don't…

"Bring me the ranch dressing hose!"

--Homer Simpson
We're heading into that time when we seriously think about where we'll move to next. We probably won't find out until December but we have lists of cities to ponder and we can submit some preferences. Some of our top choices in Africa and Asia have already been taken, which is disappointing. But we have plenty to choose from and I think we'll pretty much be happy anywhere we end up. We can keep ourselves entertained.
I did a super-scientific analysis of the list based on benefits and perks from Mike's employer, deliciousness and gluten-freeness of local cuisines, and warmth of the weather. The winner of my analysis was Havana. Rum! Yucca frita! Graham Greene! It's actually on our list of preferences, but not near the top. 
In researching cities, I'm alarmed by the number of TGI Fridays that are popping up India. I'm also concerned by the number of people who complain about the cost of ranch dressing in Asia. My method of analysis seems quit…