Whenever I enter a new landscape or setting there is a certain adjustment time before I can understand what it is I am seeing. I like to use my Grand Canyon analogy to illustrate this point. The few times I have visited the Grand Canyon I always process it like so:
I literally catch my breath at the first glimps because the enormity of it is physically overwhelming.
I begin my actual exporation of the canyon which yields more managable pieces of information that help understand the whole thing.
I spend a great deal of time just looking at it from the inside. Eventually the larger than life hole in the ground takes on layers, textures, a rainbow of colors and many other distinguishing characteristics.
If I was a park ranger, Native American, rafting guide, or geologist I might with time understand it in a much deeper, fuller way and eventually come to accept the canyon as my everyday backdrop. I don't forsee life ever casting me in position to obtain that type of relationship to it though.
So it goes with travel to foreign places. The first days spent in Bujumbura nearly everything I saw was ashocking. Every social event felt like the most special moment in time. Hospitality so far from home and life as you know is accepted with the deepest gratitude. Every discovery of daily function feels like an important anthropolical theory.
Eventually, the initial sharpness of these experiences, sensations, and observations dulls and sensory processing creates a more realistic understanding of the new environment. I don't know that in four of five weeks here in Burundi I am going to obtain a reliable understanding of its people and their culture. I do know that I am kinda of, sort of, maybe starting to see beyond the enormous statement of poverty that informs every aspect of life here to see people going about their business in a dignified, very human way.
I write this because I feel torn between splashing sensational stories of life in Burundi, of which there are many, with giving sympathetic information that speaks to the human universals that we share. It is so easy to contrast Burundians' economic situation to Americans' and stop there. This seems to be a narrow, superficial interpretation of life. I just am not sure yet where to draw the line between money and the rest of the story.