A welcome break

A welcome break
23-11-2009

We are remiss in not putting up any new postings to the blog for a while. Our only excuse is that we took a few days out to visit Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. We don’t have residency permits in Rwanda yet and so needed to renew our passport visas by leaving the country. Alternative destinations were Congo with its guerrilla militias or Uganda with its expensive entry visas. So Burundi it was. Aside from complying with the diplomatic niceties of visa regulations, the trip gave us a valuable opportunity to review the project so far and gather our thoughts.

Since entering Africa by Egypt, where visitors are welcomed with a warmth usually reserved for the tax inspector, we have noticed that border controls become noticeably more relaxed as one travels south. By the time we reached Kenya, the customs officers were happy to pass the time of day telling us what they thought of Gordon Brown. Burundi is as far south as we have been so far and proceedings at the border were decidedly laid-back. It turned out that there was no accountant on duty that day so they couldn’t issue us with visas to enter the country. Never mind. Instead, we were given a scrap of paper torn from a notebook with a scribbled instruction in Kinyarwanda to pay on the way out. I like informality.

Crossing the border took us back into the Africa we had become familiar with north of Rwanda. Here again were the villagers selling their fruit and wares by the roadside to any passing vehicle that might stop. This has been done away with in Rwanda. Again we were passing military checkpoints along the road. And again we were back into big mountain climbs where the heavy trucks, Bujumbura’s lifeline, crawl uphill at 10mph and downhill at 15mph. We realised how much Rwanda has tried to turn itself into a modern economy. Unfortunately, the dirt and squalor that are apparent along the roads of other countries have merely been moved out of sight rather than eliminated.

It has to be said that Bujumbura isn’t a pretty place. The teaming rain doesn’t help although its one redeeming feature is Lake Tanganyika which could look very appealing on bright day. For all that Burundi is seen as Rwanda’s poor relation, there is definitely a bustle and more shops in Bujumbura than Kigali. There are also shades of Addis Ababa where the streets are unsurfaced and beggars sit along the pavement.

So, confined to the hotel with our deliberations, what did we learn? Much of our work we are pleased with. Other aspects need a bit of attention. After almost four months on the dark continent we are learning to adapt and know that we will make mistakes along the way. The road back to Rwanda was almost like going home. Perhaps we have adapted better than we think.