Day-trip to Giti

Trip Start Sep 06, 2012
1
5
14
Trip End Oct 09, 2012


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Where I stayed
Chez Lando

Flag of Rwanda  , Kigali City,
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jetlag woke me in the middle of the night and kept me up for several hours, so I was still tired when my alarm went off this morning. I hurried to have some breakfast since I was fairly certain we wouldn't be eating lunch. Mr. Mundeli called at our agreed-on time, 08:30, to let me know he’d be a little late, and as soon as he arrived with a new driver named Innocent, we  drove to the Burundian embassy so I could apply for a visa. The embassy was located on a sort of embassy row street, not far from Chez Lando. As we stopped at the front gate, Innocent honked, thue usual signal for "open up and let us in". A guard came to the car and said we couldn’t drive in and we couldn’t park there. Where could we park, I asked. He motioned off to a seemingly distant location down the street toward the US embassy. OK. Mr. Mundeli and I got out and Innocent drove off in search of the phantom parking lot.

At the gate we were told that we could not take cell phones inside. I surrendered my Blackberry and Mr. Mundeli his phone, which were both placed (sort of) in a standard letter-size envelope. In exchange we were given a tiny square of paper with the handwritten letters MV on it. This was no doubt a security rule to prevent anyone from taking a cell photo of the embassy in preparation for a terror attack (Burundi has troops under UN colors in Somalia not too far away and there have been threats). That was well and good except that the guard let me carry in my camera bag containing high-res still and video cameras. What we have here is a failure to communicate….

We walked through the empty parking area to the house and through the door. The couches were already full of waiting women, but the reception desk was unattended. We waited a few minutes, hearing a rather loud conversation going on in Kirundi in an office. Another foreigner entered and began waiting with us. After ten minutes I walked to the office and into the doorway and smiled. The receptionist was cut off in mid-sentence, jumped up and came out to the desk. I explained my need for a visa, hoping the hoops wouldn’t be too high or small. No problem, just $90, one photo, and please fill out this form. When could I pick it up? Tomorrow at 10:00 am.

I handed her a clean, unmarked,100 dollar bill, such as are required here. She looked at it closely. “Please give me another one” she said, “a newer one.” It was a 2003, which has until now been the cutoff for bills they like to accept. “It needs to be 2006 or newer” she told me. The rules have changed; it was only a matter of time. “You can go change this one” she offered helpfully. I told her I didn’t have time to do that at the moment but that I would bring a newer bill tomorrow when I came to pick up my passport. That was acceptable.

We went back and picked our phones, I double checked to make sure I had the right one and we called Innocent to make his way back to the embassy to pick us up. Then we started out on the long unpleasant road to Giti, under a light rain. The first half hour is on blacktopped road that is currently being improved (with good reason), so there were stops and starts and many slowdowns. I watched the familiar scenery pass by and was once again struck by the beauty of the contrasting colors. African light often seems to offer alternate views of common scenes.

We finally turned off onto dirt and wound our way up the tortured road to Giti, which is located on a mountain top. The rain became heavier, which can be a problem on clay-dirt roads, but in the event we didn't have any particular problems. All the same, partway along, Innocent, feeling protective of his car, protested that if he’d known the road was be like this and this long, he wouldn’t have accepted the job. This was actually the opening gambit in a not-so-Innocent attempt to renegotiate his agreed-upon fare; but that was for later.

After two hours we arrived at the church hall which is being prepared for the Feast of Tabernacles celebration. I approved a proposal this year to hold the festival here rather than down on Lake Muhazi where service has notably declined in the past few years. Mr. Mrs. Sibobugingo and Etienne were present to greet us.

So construction is underway: temporary sleeping chambers of various sizes – one for each family, a kitchen, additional toilets and showers. The cistern will be refurbished (there is no running water in Giti) and we will purchase a small generator to allow electrical lighting at night. I was given the grand tour, which allowed me to make some suggestions (rather than replace the fraying waterproof tarp in the cistern, have a mason line it in brick and seal it with cement, purchase a plastic water tank and place it on a support just below the roof to allow for some water pressure, etc.).

I also examined the interior of the church hall. Termites built a path inside the paint to reach some of the wooden supports in the walls, that needs immediate attention, and I offered a small amount to allow them to repaint inside and out so they will have an immaculate building for festival. I took photos and asked lots of questions. It was good to see copies of our weekly church newsletter on the literature rack, French along with Kinyarwanda translations which allow everyone to keep up with news of our activities.

Etienne showed me the blackboard he uses to offer reading classes to local villagers. These occur twice a week in the Church hall. He said he has about 10 students at any given time. He's been doing so for years and this activity helps the church fulfill an outreach responsibility to the local community.

Before leaving we talked to the mason currently working on the toilettes to make sure he could handle the new jobs to be done, which he indicated would not be a problem.  Then we said goodbye to the Mr. Mrs. Sibobugingo, (he had to go back to his teaching job – the lunch break was almost over), and drove to Etienne’s house a few miles away. It had been quite a while since I had visited their home, and we had the time this trip. He tried to call his wife and let her know we were coming, but her phone was off. So as we arrived at his house, she also arrived from the fields, embarrassed to be found in her work clothes, but visibly pleased we had come.

We sat in their family room and talked a good while catching up on family news, blessings and challenges. Etienne took me out back to show me his livestock, a young bull and two goats. The bull was an unexpected gift from someone to whom he had given a cow many years earlier, the giver also promised a cow soon – enough to start a breeding program and, we hope, wealth-building. Cast your bread upon the waters….

I asked about house in which they have lived 30 years or so. How much maintenance was there? He explained that twice a year the interior walls have to be redone with a mixture of ash, cow dung and tapioca flower (the latter keeps it from flaking), the outside is harder and only has to be redone every five years, with a mix of stone, mud, and a chemical epoxy mix that can be inexpensively purchased. It’s a very hard mix that resists the elements well. The corrugated tin roof will need some attention soon; periodic hail damages it over time and eventually makes some holes.

I asked if I could take their photo and he his wife agreed. This couple sets a very fine example of Christianity, a loving marriage, hard work and service to the local congregation. They are true pillars. I’ve been thankful over the years to be able, on behalf of the church, to help them, among other members in Giti, cover school expenses for their children, to make sure they all get an education. It is much appreciated help, in fact what they most desire.

Then it was time to say goodbye and head back down the mountain. The road construction slowed things even more going back, so it took more than 2 hours to reach Kigali. On the way Mr. Muneli called the Burume family in eastern Congo and I was able to say hello, ask about their welfare and pass along greetings. I also talked to Dr. Kamanzi the head of the dental department at the Centre Hospitalier de Kigali and plan to stop by to visit her in her office tomorrow, among other errands to run around the capital. Finally back at Chez Lando, at 5:00 pm, I said goodbye to Mr. Mundeli; who has a funeral to attend to tomorrow, so that he can be free to join me in Burundi, traveling down Thursday.

I was hungry ready for dinner, since we hadn’t had the time or a place to eat lunch; another beef brochette. We’ll see how well I sleep tonight.
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Comments

Linda Morgan on

Joel, it is very nice to see the places and people that Dr. Swartz often talks of in his letters. Thank you so much for the accompanying photos of the home of our brethren. How very spoiled we are here, how very blessed we are! Praying for a safe and fruitful trip.

TESS WASHINGTON on

Mr. Meeker, glad to hear you're safe and the brethrens too! We are praying for your safety fervently especially with these recent incidents in Egypt and Libya! This travel blog is so amusing...I have a few chuckles and laughter while reading it...especially your comment about "a failure to communicate"...May you have a wonderful sleep and rest even while in your travels! Take care and we're looking forward for more news about our brethrens in these African countries!

maryhendren
maryhendren on

Hi Joel,

It is humbling and encouraging to see the Feast site taking shape in Giti. What a lot of work that is coming together for the members there. As always, your comments on travel remind us of the blessing of good roads and easy passage. We appreciate the photos that help us see our brethren.

Mary

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