Thursday, June 25, 2009

The First Days

At last I am in Burundi. I must begin by expressing my gratitude for the support that so many people lent to this trip. Now that I am here in Bujumbura with a couple days behind me I feel like it is my happy duty to try as best as I can to convey what I am experiencing in the country. My apologies to you because it is not possible for me to adequately describe all that is happening around me but again, I will do my best to pass along the gist as best that I can.

Even as I type there is a conflict of sound between that of a Burundian speaking on his cell phone in Kirundi, while the neighboring Methodist church conducts its all evening service and the sound of the evening Muslim call to prayer echo behind that somewhere. What Burundi lacks in economic standing it seems to make up for in a wealth of religious options. I write from one of the many Quaker outposts in the region and all the time I spend here is with the Quaker group African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) founded by David Zarembka. A Burundian woman named Alexia Nibona who once volunteered for AGLI was a driving force behind the formation of an HIV/AIDS clinic on the outskirts of Bujumbura. The clinic is partially operating as a place for those with HIV to receive counseling and antibiotics. It also does HIV and malaria testing. The structure still needs quite a bit of work before it would be considered completed. It lacks medicine, beds, and many other essentials for basic function. The idea behind the clinic is ambitious and desperately needed; the funding to make all of it possible has not yet been found. It sits in a prime location to serve the area's poorest. It is a challenge to drive a car down the road to the clinic. The dirt and rock roads are so pitted and potholed that even with the greatest of caution the car's underbelly receives a brutal scrape everytime we arrive. Car access isn't such a big deal though because no one who works there or would need the clinic's services has a vehicle. I am concerned about how much we can realistically accomplish this trip versus how much work the clinic really needs. More on that later.

Today we completed the second day or a three day workshop at the Kamenge clinic. For seven hours a day the last two days my fellow workcampers and I sat in a room with around 16 Burundians to participate in an AVP clinic. AVP stands for alternative to violence program and has its roots in the States where it was initially implemented as a program for prisoners. It has grown and been adopted all over the world. It is serving a couple purposes very well for the 20 of us this week. In addition to addressing the idea of violence, defining it, and exploring ways of avoiding it the workshop has brought together two very different cultures in a very unique way. We have talked about a huge variety of personal topics both one-on-one and as a group(with the help of an interpretter). We have played games together allowing for us to let our gaurds down and be silly in addition to eating and even occasionally singing. Language is still a gigantic hurdle to true understanding but I would like to believe that we have dismantled quite a bit of apprehension and preconceived notions about each other during the last couple of days' activities. We will continue to be referred to as Moobuzu (or something like that meaning "white person") but perhaps the idea of white person is a little less weird.

Most of the people we will be partnering with to build the clinic starting next week were in the workshop and I am pretty sure that the days spent this week in our Sunday best while talking about some of the worst aspects of humanity will make us more respectful and comfortable in each other's company than any other activity could have.

Pictures will be key to really explaining what it look like here. I will do my best to upload some as soon as possible. This for now will serve as commencement. Thanks for reading and feel free to email me if you have any questions.