Walk of the wazungu - angels watchinig over me

Yesterday Derek and I had a quiet day so we did one of our favorite activities, we call it the walk of the Wazungu. We set out by foot from the house and just pick a direction and explore – we do not let our children come with us – they have a tendency to ‘handle us.’

Our neighborhood is called Kibenga. It is very middle class. All the houses are behind walls, but there is always lots of activities on the streets. People gather to share the news; Many people set up small shops in their walls, and sell cokes, or bread or sundries. There is the occasional beer hall, and of course there are children everywhere. It is quite safe for us, and I have a good sense of direction so we do not get lost. We greet people, and are generally a tourist attraction to the kids. It is fun.

Yesterday we made it up to the big road. Left and you head towards downtown. Right and south along the shores of Tanganyika and if you go a day’s drive the country of Tanzania. Our neighborhood is the southernmost one in Bujumbura proper. Just a few hundred yards south, is a small river, and if you cross the bridge over it, you are in ‘Bujumbura Rural’. During the war and as recently as last year all of BR was rebel controlled. I had crossed this river once in 03 but with a full entourage in the big NGO landcruiser on business to the south, we did not slow down in BR.

But things are different now, and there were gendarme on the road so D and I decided to march south a bit. I explained the whole situation to him and extracted a promise that if it felt dicey we would retreat, and off we went. Just over the bridge is a slum/shanty town called Kanyosha. We wanted to see what life was like there. Pretty grim, the same small enterprise we see everywhere, but at a smaller and more impoverished level. Fires and thick diesel fumes. People too poor to buy charcoal cooking over burning garbage. Children, but children without much in the way of clothing.

It was immediately apparent that people like us do not walk in Kanyosha; the populous was curious, surprised, and the level of animosity, and criminal opportunity rose. We walked purposely and greeted folks and proceeded. The next thing I noticed was that we had picked up an unofficial police escort. One young copper with an AK, walking apace with us, pretending to ignore us, but sticking to us like glue. We conferred and decided to cross the road and turn north. A few hundred yards up, D decided that we should buy a coke, as we were pretty parched and hot. He left me on the road and climbed the bank to a house that advertised drinks and sundries. The man there denied any knowledge of drinks for sale. I was watching Derek with amusement, as it was clear he was failing in his mission, but was doggedly pursuing by asking for each and every flavor “coke?” ”No” ”Orange?” “No?” “Citro?” “OYA”.

While being amused I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by about a half- dozen cops. Smiles and bonjour madams all around. D checks the scene and scrambles down the bank. There is a captain and he has some English. He is very curious about what were are doing there, why we don’t have a car, where we are staying in Burundi and what is our country of origin. I am pretty sure that he thought we were very lost, or had a broken car. We explained our walk and allowed as how it was probably time to be walking back to Kibenga. The police captain agreed. We shook all their hands and took off for the bridge.

Then my phone rang. It was David Niyonzima at the THARS office. This is what we said – exactly.

“Peggy, are you standing by a bridge surrounded by police?”

"Well, no actually the police are now a few yards away."

“I just had a concern.”


“Will you be heading home now?”

I am looking around for the spy who obviously recognized us and tipped off the boss. No obvious suspects. Likely someone in a car or one of the cops.

Back at the office later, this is the story Niyonzima is giving and he is sticking to it.

“I had a vision of you in my head, and you were standing by a bridge surrounded by police so I thought I ought to check on you.”

Friends like this – who needs the CIA!

Still grateful, but a little spooked.



The Spirit of the clock

Our accomodations are really quite nice. The entire upstairs of the house of David and Felicity. We have a sitting room, a veranda with a view of the lake and the Congo as well as the Burundi mountains behind us, two bedrooms, two baths and a small kitchen. Quite delux. I have hot water, Derek not so much - he is not complaining - truly you don't care to much for the hot stuff here.

In our sitting room there is a clock on the wall. The ceiling is at least 12 foot, and the clock is placed high. It has never told anything close to the correct time, but D and I have been working on our African cool so we don't care. Niyonzima came up and noticed how off it was - this bugged him and he got up on a chair and took the clock down. Behind the clock was exposed one the the fabulous Burundian 2 inch spiders. They move way to fast and are very smart. The only creature in the house that can catch one is the extremely predatory burundian chicken and she was not present. But this spider was behaving very weirdly - she was running around the nail that had held the clock in very nice clockwise circles. She kept this up as we watched. David says "look!, the spirit of the clock has posessed the spider!" he tried a valiant swat, but the spider forsook the circle and dodged into the woodwork. Just out of curiosity I asked If the spider was poisonous.
"Well. no - not poison - they don't bite"
I could tell there was more
"what do they do?"
"They do a thing I don't really know how to explain in english"
"They throw a substance out of their mouth that hurts"
"They spit poison"
"no, I told you,not poison - a liquid that burns - on the skin it looks a lot like that patch on your neck, peggy"
"nice, we have a acid spitting spider in the house"

I had awakened the other day with a burning patch on my neck - it has been healing.
spiders are not stopped by mere mosquito nets.
I think I am inviting the chicken upstairs.
sweet dreams


Anna is 9

And I baked her a birthday cake! Big stuff! It was her first cake ever. Everything in the house is cooked over charcoal outside, but there is a little used electric oven, that I had cleaned out for use. I was afraid she was going to save it just because it was pretty, and we told her she could do anything she wanted with it. She decided to cut it and serve it to people herself. Derek got the first piece and the biggest. Her brothers had to wait a bit! HA

My Students

Let me introduce you to my traumatology students

I have 20 of them. About half and half men and women. Ages from the late twenties to the mid-sixties. Educated from primary school to graduate school. They have been invited because they work in a helping field, or they are influential people in their communities. When we educate one of them, we educate whole communities and organizations. Several of them work for THARS and have been doing trauma listening with only the barest of preparation. A couple of them work in human rights organizations, there is a lawyer, there is one who works demobilizing child soldiers, several are teachers from primary through high school, there are a couple of university students.

Our job in three days is to give them the basics of Trauma and its effects, and a method of resolving trauma.

Here is the program:

Definition of Trauma

Effects of Trauma
The healing model

The qualifications of a good trauma healer

Basic listening skills

The trauma sequence (functional traumatology)

The physiology of trauma (physical traumatology)

The brain

The brain under trauma

The stress response

The storyteller and the keeper of nightmares

(cultural traumatology)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The PTSD assessment tool

Advanced listening skills

Faith and trauma

Children and Trauma

I have done this before, so I fully expected that a big piece of the intervention would be resolving the trauma of these students themselves, we send them home better than they came and that is great advertising. Now, changing the names, and with their permission, I will share a little of their stories.

Beatrice is a young woman who was married young and had three children. She was the recipient of a near fatal beating. She experienced such a deep trauma response that she did not feel any of the pain of the beating until three months later, when the pain arrived along with nightmares.

Patrice is a young man who was a soldier in the rebel army for several years. He was a teenager at the time and attended school during the day and fought with the rebels in the bush at night. He saw a great deal of action and witnessed and probably committed atrocities.

During the war, Aaron was arrested because he was too highly educated. He was kept in a cell 1 meter square for months. The prison was severely overcrowded. To relieve this, one night the guards killed every prisoner in the jail except for Aaron who was spared because one of the guards was a friend of his.

Margarite is a young woman who was sexaully assaulted by rebels during the conflict.

When Catharine’s husband died, she was alone, and the situation was unstable, so she slept with the dead body until she could get neighbors to help bury him.

Maria is a grandmother. Her home was invaded by rebels who beat and tortured her and her family in an attempt to get money.

Angelique lost her son to illness. At the burial, soldiers swept through shooting at anything that moved. The mourners fled, but Angelique stayed at the graveside because the grave had not been closed. The soldiers held a gun to her head but then decided to leave her alive as she had experienced enough trouble that day.

Nine out of Ten Burundians who are over the age of 13 have experienced a trauma like this. Many of them have experienced many such traumas.


My Charge d affairs

Hayo Daniella, age 17, daughter of David Niyonzima has been my right hand this month. She helps me keep track of my stuff, minds my self-care, gives me spiritual counsel, prays for me and gives me cultural information that I could get no other way. I have tried to tell her about the job of ‘elder’, which she performs admirably, but it is impossible for her to imagine herself in that role, especially in relation to me, but I am grateful none the less.

One of her jobs is to watch non-verbals, and listen to Kirundi side-comments when I am teaching and give me feedback as needed. This has proved invaluable.

Last week in Gitega she gave me this synopsis.

Day 1 ”They are like people who have been working in a field with their hands, and we came carrying hoes, and they were happy because they knew what the hoes were for, and they needed them.

Day 2 “Now you have given them new food. They are like hungry lions, and you are the meat. If I tried to take you from them they would jump on me and tear me to pieces.”

Day 3 “They are like soldiers ready to march. They are a little nervous, but they are ready to go try what you taught them.”

Grateful Indeed.



getting the cool back

January 16

Getting those cool points back


I am up country doing a three day training. Making beginning level field traumatologists. My students are amazing. I will write more about them later. But first the fun!

This morning we were in town buying breakfast, Felicite had gone inside a restaurant to buy Sambusa (fried meat pockets – don’t ask what kind) and Gitega doughnuts. Cube shaped fried bread. Upcountry deep fried is the way to go for me – pretty safe. We are on the main square of town.

I was waiting with the truck with Emory our driver and Daniella. I got out and was conversing with a group of young Gitega motorcycle taxi drivers. This is a thing I have been practicing. We speak a bad mix of Kirundi, English, French and Kiswahili plus universal biker. The last works best. I have figured out how to tell them that I am in the club, and I praise their steeds and ask a lot of questions. They are all kickstart Chinese 125’s. The brakes and clutch are in the normal place but the shifter is a rocker instead of a straight up and down config. We were having a nice chat when I met the bravest young man in Burundi. He had a brand spanking new red bike. Chromed out. A treasure here, his livelihood, his manhood. And he looked at me and said “Muzungu – You Go?” And he kicked it and pushed the handlebars towards me.

Oh, sweet Jesus, Mercy, a chance. David N had asked me not to ride in Buja as it is very suicidal. But this is Gitega.

The temptation is a black hole. I smile. Say , “oya, (NO) not today,” I turn away, I clutch my gut. I whine pathetically. Emory starts shaking his head. Dani says “Resist! Peggy, Resist!” I try. I fail. I turn. Walk over and sit on the running bike. We are on dirt with a steep little cliff up onto the tarmac. I am not too sure about the shifter. Dani gets out of the truck, and stands in front of me. “Peggy, No, Don’t do this.” I try and logic myself out of this. If I crash this boy’s livelihood – I will really be doing an evil thing. If I crash me, the nearest hospital worth checking into is in Nairobi, Kenya. Logic is not working. I check in with Jesus – He seems to be laughing. I look around for angels. They all have bikes. No one has offered me a helmet, and the Gitega cops are all around me, arms crossed, blank faces. It is against the law What can the fee/bribe be? 10 bucks tops – So worth it.

I say to Dani “Babydoll, step out of my way, I am going to do this thing!” She steps aside, and in my khakis and African Explorer hat, I nurse the thing up onto the pavement, such as it is, and take off. The hat blows off my head – fortunately I have a stampede strap on it. My hair is blowing in the wind. Cars get out of my way. People scream and shout. I guarantee you no white woman has EVER ridden a bike in Gitega until this day. I take her around the square at full tilt. I cannot help the rebel yell that escapes my throat. Shops empty of people. Then I discover that the front brakes on this thing don’t really exist. With great pressure, the rear brakes grab. I slow back to where I started. I stop in front of the Brave One. He is beaming. The taxi guys are shouting. The cops are applauding. I give the bike back to the man with a nice Kirundi thank-you and a French two cheek hug. I get back in the truck. Emory looks at me like I have grown an extra head. Dani praises God for His mercy. Then Felicity comes out of the sambusa place, and gets in the truck without any clue as to what just transpired.

“Sorry it took so long”

No problem, Madame”

No problem.


The Women's shelter

This is the women's center outside Giheta that is described below at "week two"
It needs plaster, metal window frames and a floor.
Use that Paypal button!

Your blogging Dollars at Work

The author taking a turn in the dirt on the new foundation for the classroom
at the Gitega Center

Pass the Hemlock

Elie, Yoyo and Anna with the Gameboy I brought from Pappa Noel.

Burundi, where old Norse Gods retire

I will not be able to post my column on Tuesday
so I am going to scoop UPI and put it up here now.


Awake again at 4 in the morning. Burundi does not seem like a place of easy sleep. Tonight I have made a very interesting discovery. When the old gods retire, they move to tropical climes. I know this because those old Norse dudes Thor and Odin are presently duking it out directly over my tin roofed house. The flashes of light not only illuminate the room, they illuminate the back of my brain through eyes squeezed shut and a pillow over my head. The thunder, which is occurring at 10 second intervals, is shaking the foundations of the house. The wind has blown open the shutters three times, and my bed is soaked with rainwater. But as it is about a 90 degrees Fahrenheit I don’t mind the water so much.

It should be about time for the call to prayer, but I think the singer has given up over the tempest – God is singing His own call tonight. “Sleepers Awake!” I will never again brag about the Midwestern thunderstorms of my youth. All those cards have just been trumped.

Nothing in this place is mild. Nothing is bland. It is hard work to get up and live. The simple strangeness, and the energy it takes to adjust to it, tires you by 10 in the morning. The abundance is also exhausting. Five choirs at church that each sing twice, loudly and with exuberance. Drinking halls in the residential neighborhoods that dance all night. The Mosque a block over.

The food is strange and abundant. The driving deserves another column.

But the most draining thing is the spiritual learning curve.

I get daily doses of the disciplines that far exceed the recommended minimums. Compassion and discernment with the four year old homeless street children. Forgiveness with the forty-seven cultural snafus that I create each day. Continual attention is required to avert catastrophe. Adventure – boy Howdy! My soul is on the rack – stretched to near breaking. Yet I learn.

The best lesson this week was an observation of the other, which became an inward instruction.

The squandered resource of central Africa is human intelligence and initiative. There is not enough work to go around, and due to poverty and lack of development, much of the work that is done is difficult, menial, and does not use the obvious prevalent intelligence of these people. They make jobs for each other right and left, but a lot of those jobs work at half-speed, and way below the level of competence. A secretary, who at home would be a busy office administrator, answers a phone maybe once an hour - and if she makes a few photocopies – it is a busy day. The rest of the day she spends waiting. Our driver works about two hours a day, and sits for six. We have a man just to open our gate. But even his job is more interesting than the soldiers of the new Burundi peace who sit on the roadside every few hundred yards and stare into space for the whole day.

I spend many hours a day waiting, for the power to come back on, for the shared internet connection, and then for minutes as I wait for an e-mail to be ‘sent.’ I wait for my friend as we drive and stop every few hundred yards to greet someone. I am getter better at relaxing while I wait, but I often finding myself wondering if what I am doing is really the best use of me.

Then my eyes opened to yet another level of my American spoiled child syndrome. I take for granted the fact that I will be near the top of my game most of the time - that all my work will be meaningful in some form. I don’t like to do work unless that work is something that really takes me to do it. I like to be unique and to express it. I am just way too precious a commodity to be wasted.

I am a spoiled child of God. I am full of it.

So I have decided to join my brothers and sisters here, in their patience and graciousness and wisdom. I will sit quietly and contentedly and wait to see if there is some small thing that the boss has for me to do today. And if all I do is stand at the ready, handmaiden to grace, then I will still count it to be a good day.

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

OK - Pictures!

Hey! the connection is so good tonight that we think we can get up pictures.

Derek on our porch

You can read Derek's account at

Better Connection

Hey - it's Sunday and we came in to the office and the DSL is faster than during biz hours. The connection here is solid - you don't get bumped off like at the cafe's but it is like a road that switches from pavement to mud randomly and with no notice.

Church was great today. I am healthy. Driving is fun. Haven't been stopped by the police since yesterday.

I am going upcountry tomorrow to make a new batch of trauma healers. Won't be back down to Buja and a connection until Friday night.

Love to see you comments.


In the cool of the morning in Gitega

In the cool of the morning in Gitega
I can almost forget
That paradise
Can kill me

In the cool of the morning in Gitega
I can wish walk
The blue washed hills
Soul free

In the cool of the morning in Gitega
I hear the song
Of Firstmother
Calling my true name

In the cool of the morning in Gitega
I walk in the footsteps
Of Firstfather
Naming all that I see

In the cool of the morning in Gitega
Dangerous beauty
Calls for care
Touch is perilous

Week two - Gitega

Week Two

I am having trouble uploading pictures to the blog.
Unless I can get more bandwidth – pics may have to wait for home.

I went upcountry this week for two days. Buurundi is significantly better, than when I was here three years ago.
No road blocks, no rebels. We can go off road and out into the country safely. Fewer guns, but still more AK’s than in the city proper. The new administration is admired and is soing some smart things. The cows have been banished from the city streets, and city police have fewer guns in evidence.

But the road to GItega is still bad. It is one of the four paved roads outside of the capitol, but paved is still a very subjective concept. The trip is UP UP UP, winding, badly banked – built by workers who have never driven a car and do not really get the concept of how much room is needed for a turn. No civil engineers. Sheer drop offs. The rains continue. Wash outs, mudslides, etc. My previous driver Venant, one of my favorite Burundians has been ill, and has sent his nephew Emery to drive us. Uncle V is probably taking half his pay. Good gig. Em is young, scared of me until I pop the ipod into the truck and put on the fugees.

A tanker truck of petrol has lost it on a turn. Tipped, leaking, bad bad bad. Big slow down. We pass on the edge.

Riding with Niyonzima is interesting. We stop to greet people every few miles. We stop to bestow favors and pick up errands. We check on each of the three THARS offices on the way. He is supervising more construction projects than I can count. He keeps small armies employed a few francs at a time. Widows and orphans get a lot of work out of
this man. We are the Quaker bus to everywhere, people get on and get off. Everyone greets everyone every time. We proceed at a regal, grace-filled pace. It is not quick.

Amid all the small purposes, we have two big purposes.

The first is to get me out to the womens shelter, outside of Giheta that was built with money from Scotts Mills Friends. Laura House – Burundi. It is built, walls and roof. It needs plaster and doors and floors to be finished. I talk with the woman who runs the women’s assistance office for sexual violence for THARS. In Burundi, if you are raped, especially upcountry your family often will not take you back, be you much needed wife, or treasured daughter. The options after that are all bad and most end in death. THARS gets medical attention for these women, and then advocates for them. A representative of THARS goes to the family and talks to them about trauma and recovery. Local leaders are educated and brought in as needed. Thus the whole community is educated. They do this slowly, and persistently until the woman is restored to her family. If we can get this shelter finished they can help four women at a time instead of one. Drop in a bucket, but what a Holy bucket it is. My visit, spurs the work. I took some of YOUR money – you bloggers – cement will be purchased – walls will be plastered. I prayed over the building, and it’s mistress.

They still need doors. I bet that paypal button over on the left still works.

The second task is to inspect the big contrustion site, outside of Gitega – second City. THARS has been given a plot of land by the government, built on it and you keep it, build well, and we will give you more. David’d dream for this place is a center, of healing and teaching for all of central Africa. Training center, retreat house, treatment center, conference center. Last year he brought home enough money to start the first building. 10K us has put up a building with four dorm rooms, a kitchen and a meeting room. Against all odd the city has run a water pipe out to the place without being asked – miracle. This house is almost finished.

I have brought enough to start the foundation on the second building, big meeting hall, dining hall, western standard restroom. The trenches are being dug by three women who do not weight two hundred pounds together. The trenches are two foot deep and one foot wide into the red clay soil. They do this with a hoe. Then they will carry the field stones and fill the trenches as full as possible, then cement will be poured between the stones, then a floor will be poured, one wheelbarrow of cement at a time. We hope to get this foundation/floor laid before Feb, as we are expecting a team of surveyors, architects and engineers from Colorado who will be drawing plans for the full center. Everything existing will be built into the plan. Practical Niyonzima wants these two birds to be in the hand. I take a brief turn at the hoe to the great amusement of the sisters. I spit on the ground that will be under the podium – this is the blessing. I walk the perimeter of the grounds with david and we pray the whole way.

The valley looks like paradise.

Stayed tuned



Today's UPI column. This story is a conflation of several days and events. But it is all true.

So There I Was
Bujumbura, Burundi

Bc: January 9, 2006


Under my mosquito net listening to the call to prayer from the mosque a couple of blocks away. The neighborhood dogs are all very religious as they howl along. It is four a.m. and the darkness is still thick. The sun will rise at an equatorially predictable six, as it will set at six each evening. The birds start their morning worship at five.

I am normally a late sleeper, but here in Burundi I take coffee at first light, sitting on my second story porch which overlooks the rooftops to a turquoise Lake Tanganyika.

We have trees in our yard that only Dr. Suess could have drawn. There is a huge crane that looks disturbingly pterodactyl as he swoops by. Yesterday he dropped a large fish on the tin roof over my bedroom. The fish flopped about noisily until the crows came and finished him off. The racket that crows make on a tin roof eating a live fish is unbelievable. The crows wear formal attire, white shirts and collars under black jackets – very Burundian – dress-up very every occasion. The bug du jour is a six inch dragon fly which swarms by the hundreds. It is quite a breakfast show.

It is Sunday and soon we are all washed and coiffed and dressed in our finest to attend Kamenge Friends Church. There are nine of us in the six seat car – room to pick up a traveler or two. The neighborhood of Kamenge is the poorest in a country that is one of the poorest on Earth. Kamenge Friends is a church of 800, and my friend is the pastor. They have a rather unQuakerly eight choirs. Worship is loud and long. Old George Fox might recognize the long, but probably not the loud. But it would not matter because Jesus hangs out at Kamenge Friends, and anybody can recognize that guy.

The pastor arrives fashionably late and makes an entrance with his entourage. The American visitor makes the entourage more interesting.

There is a commotion at the back of the church. The pastor has been called. A group of men surround a man writhing on the ground. He has been bound hand and foot and beaten. Perhaps a thief has been caught. Now the pastor waves the men back and squats down and speaks slowly and gently to the bound fellow. Then he commands the ropes which have cut into the man’s flesh to be untied. He puts his hands on the man and calls for water. He speaks quietly to the man for several minutes and then gives a long set of instructions to the others. The injured man is taken up and away. Much more gently that he arrived.

I am told that he was agitated and found to be conversing with people that no one else could see. Demon possession, of course. Beat it out of him. If that doesn’t work, drag him to the church for prayer and beating. I am told that sometimes hot sticks are put into the ears to stop the voices of the demons. This fellow was lucky. The pastor they hauled him to was not only compassionate, but a mental health professional. Sucks to be schizophrenic in Africa.

Jesus said that His mission, and so ours, is to preach good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, and to set captives free. At Kamenge, this work is done quite literally.


3 Jubilee

Backing up a bit.
So last Sunday was my 49th birthday. I have started my jubilee year, having completed seven sevens of years. I am doing a study on the Biblical Jubliee. My first observation is that it is all about equality. Raising the low, and the high willingly and joyfully making themselves low. Jubilee does not believe in the myth of scarcity or hoarding. If God has been good to you and you have done well, it is time to lighten up, in the assurance that as bounty came once, so it will come again. So it was no surprise that God started the lesson by letting us arrive without our kit. Daniella put her own pj’s on me. Two Quaker friends left the day after I arrived and we gratefully took all their left over toiletries Derek had to beg underwear. When Felicity, our hostess understood what he was asking, and that he was willing to put on her husband’s undershorts, she was truly shocked – more than willing to help – but shocked.

We arrived on a Saturday so it was two days before we could change any money and shop for even the simplest of things.

The second theme of jubilee is celebration. Well, we have that in trump cards. Kamenge friends had a choir concert in our honor on our first Sunday. They can really CRANK IT UP! They have keyboards and electric guitars and big speakers but the musicians still don’t drown out the five choirs. I danced, and I mean danced! In church on my birthday. Jubilee indeed!

4- who are the people in our neighborhood.

Derek and I are staying in the house of David Niyonzima, and his wife Felicity Ntikurako. They have four children; Daniella( my charge dáffairs) 17, Elie 15, Yoyo 13, and Anna 8. We have a housekeeper, Gilbert who takes care of us all, food, clothes, sanitation., Bukuru is the gatekeeper and gardener. There is a young uncle, constantin (Cosi) who is studying here. He gave up his quarters to me.

At the office we have David’s secretary Dina, Anicette the accountant, Charles, Feli, and a few others. This is Buja HQ.
There are six listening centers around the country.

5 – News

Monday the 8th of January

Derek has gone up to Kigali to buy equipment or instruments for the musicians of Burundi. He went with THARS man Charles. D is having big adventure quickly.

The other evening the boys were worshipping at the House of Cool at Derek’s feet in the back yard. I said to one of them, “I used to be the coolest muzungu you knew” “oh. Peggy, you are still the coolest of the women – and you are still the best dressed of all the wazungu!” well, that’s something at least. I bet I could get back some cool points if I could get my hands on a motorcycle.

Bikes are now plentiful in Buja, they are the main taxi business. Little Chinese made things, 125cc max – kick start. One million five, francs. I have a million five. I am a millionaire here. The temptation is real.

no posts till Friday - going upcountry tomorrow for 24. I will not be driving so maybe there will be photos.

today this connection is good. Friday who knows.
stay tuned


Friday Jan 5

We went 7 days without luggage. Then yesterday my new cell phone rang. It was Phillip, a young man I met three days ago when I was granted an all access pass to the airport to search for my bags. Phillip is a bag handler and he took pity on the poor mazungu woman of one shirt.

So the bags are here. Two for me and one for Derek. We do not know where they have been. They were soaking wet – Like dipped in a swimming pool. We lost some books and calendars, some of my teaching materials, but all my clothes were in zip-locks.
Imana Ishimwe – God be praised.

So we had Christmas last night. Everyone came up to our apartment even the household help, sweets, bisquits, and presents for everyone. We sang and I shared the vie de Jesus Mafa, a set of beautiful pictures of the life of Christ where everyone, including the master is an African. The pictures are a gift to the Kamenge Sunday School

It has been rainy out of season here. The rains should have stopped a week ago. There has been flooding and many walls around houses are falling. Mud, very serious mud. Our street is mud, when it is dry the washboard effect is about 1 foot deep, with occasional deeper potholes. Wet you could hide a hippo.

I am driving all around buja. I have a Toyota Sprinter Wagon. Manual tranny – low clearance – five seatbelts. Yesterday we had nine people, plus all our baggage in it. This morning Dani and I got stopped by the police in a roadblock checking documents. The new administration is cracking down on unsafe drivers and vehicles. Apparently we passed the test. I do not think the fellow had ever seen an Oregon Drivers License. We had to explain what planet I had dropped off of. I haven’t hit anything since Tuesday.

The women’s union came through yesterday. Feli calls a friend at the embassy, who calls a friend, and a fine salon de Coiffure for Wazungu ladies was found. I am colored and coiffed. I have shoes and dresses. My cold seems to finally be abating. Batteries are charging. 86% I think.

Derek has taught three days of music at Kamenge. He is a rock star. He is going with THARS man Charles to Kigali Rwanda by bus this weekend to buy guitars. They will have an adventure.

My schedule is being worked on. First trip upcountry the 16th.


rough passage


Rough Passage

Things were going fine until Brussels. This is ironic because the Belgians were the most recent colonial oppressors in Burundi and are still pretty much despised.

The planes were full to capacity, which we expected. In London, I had to perform a miracle and transform my two carry-ons into one, but God was powerful. Our connection at London was very quick, barely time for a wash-up and a run to the next gate which was mercifully close. We were the last to make the plane. Alas, this is where we think the baggage fell behind.

Into Brussels.
At security – I was pulled over for the pat down. They found the compassion fund on my person. Apparently over the limit. “madam, please collect your things, give me your passport and come with me – we must call the police” “merde!” . after my request they let Derek stay with me, and put us in a cooling corner with a haisidic diamond merchant who did not look happy. Waited a bit and two undercover cops (they could have come from central casting) showed up. I stood, they looked me up and dow, said not a word to me, did not touch me or ask to see my cash or bags, had a loud discussion in Flemish with the security people. Then finally said to me “Madam, for you, it is ok”my passport was handed back to me, and we proceeded. Bought a good beer to wash the terror away.

– now on Ethiopian airways instead of British Airways. This was to be another overnight flight with a 11pm touchdown at Paris and then on the addis ababba. It was COLD in Brussels and I said goodbye to winter. Bad Luck that.
Ten minutes out of Paris the pilot says that the weather has gotten bad and we are turning back to Brussels.
We sat on the tarmac for an hour then the pilot said that the weather was not expected to get better for 7 hours and that they were going to bus us to a hotel. We had to get a transit visa, and they passed out all the checked luggage, this was when we found out that we had none. I requisitioned a Ethiopian Airways blanket for a coat. We stood outside in the cold after midnight and waited for busses that took us to a perfectly acceptable Holiday inn – but no food and we had not been fed since 10 am. Had a nice room for about four hours. A shower was almost as good as sleep. A buffet breakfast at 6am, well, the coffee was great. Then back to the airport. Where they parked us in a mostly unheated terminal on the tarmac and we waited for about three hours. This is when I discovered that I did not have my African explorer hat – oh, how I grieved that hat!.

Got a call off to Alivia as we could not reach Niyonzima, to tell him we would be at least a day late.

Finally a plane and off again, All day to Addis which caused us of course to miss the connection. The blessing of the day was that I realized that we were on the very same jet – I knew this because the arm of my seat was broken. At the end of the flight I searched the overhead bins, and Imana Ishimwe!(praise God) there was my faithful Hat! OK!

Now at Addis we waited an hour in a line for a hotel voucher, and then in a line that would have taken at least three hours for the transit visa. It was already midnight. Then a gigantic Nigerian fellow draped in white Lace had a truly enormous temper tantrum. The Burundian in line next to me said “that is a Nigerian, and no mistake!”and laughed. This got us three lines and got us to a hotel by 1am. But the Ethiopians stayed up and cooked us a snack then about four hours of sleep until coffee coissants and back on busses to the airport. Inquired about our luggage to no avail. I did very fast power shop with the ten minutes we had before flight time- ran into a shop and said “sisters _ need your help – I have church tomorrow and no clothes or shoes - no time to try on ! “ and a skirt, top and shoes appeared and were paid for, and I found Derek again and got on a plane to Entebbe, Uganda.

After Entebbe we flew to BUja, got in about 2 pm. David was up in Gitega getting Carolann Palmer and Patty Federighi. Feli and the girls met us and were relived to see us since they had heard to confirmation of our arrival. They were prepared to meet all three planes of the day. We filed a claim at “Luggage Perdu” . If we had arrived the right day the Kamenge Choir had hired a bus to meet us. Low key was ok – we can save Bristol City Limits for another day.

Food, sleep, and people who love us. Our accommodations are great, I have my own room with a private bath. Upstairs, windows overlooking Lake Tanganyika. We will be ok.

Stay tuned

Tuesday's UPI column

So there I was
Peggy Senger Parsons
Bujumbura, Burundi

Bc January 2, 2007

The Mystery of Compassion


So there I was…

…In an airport concourse so long I could see the curvature of the Earth. Gate B-95, no kidding. Deep winter, northern Europe, holiday season – Delay Central.

I was still pretty fresh when she caught my eye. Mid-twenties, a baby at her breast, four pieces of luggage, a half-crazed two year old boy and a compelling look of desperation.

Life presented me with about three seconds to make a decision. Look the other way, or be drawn into a vortex of need.

Then compassion struck and I surrendered to it.

I am a fairly high ranking member of the International Union of Mothers, and there are rules about these things.

So I engaged a toddler, and then took the well fed babe for a sleep in my arms, while the mother changed a diaper and rearranged herself and her luggage. She was on her way to Copenhagen from Vancouver, British Columbia - she had experienced two delays already. She wanted to see her parents. Women will do crazy things for love.

The most important thing I did was make sane adult conversation with an intelligent young woman at her wit’s end. You can give people some of your wits when they have exhausted theirs –wits transfer - Wits R Us – it’s a good thing.

She needed to see a ticket agent. She looked at me, took a deep breath, and made a huge decision. She decided to trust. It was a stunning act of beauty in an airport, our high temples of fear-driven security. A wave of warmth spread out from her and the anxious people around he shuddered a bit as the scent of heaven massaged their tight spots. Angels whistled.

“I am going to take the boy and see the agent; can I leave the luggage and the baby with you?”

I looked her in the soul and spoke with gentle authority.

“She is safe here – All is well – do what you need to do.”

“You have no idea how I appreciate this.”

“Actually, I do; been here, done this.”

An hour later I walked them to their gate and saw them on their way.

Compassion is a mystery. It is like unto its sisters, Love and Forgiveness. It has a big emotional component, sometimes it just falls upon you.

It is also a decision; you always have the choice to look the other way. Some days you assess the need of the other, and of yourself, and realize that you have to take care of yourself. You may determine that your resources and the need at hand are not a good match. You may realize that the need is too big and that the best you can do is report the situation to the switchboard at Higher Power Inc. They dispatch 24/7.

Compassion also requires action. Without action the feeling is called pity, and there are really good reason that everyone disdains pity.

Compassion is an emotional decisive course of action. Thank God, it is as common as dirt. And it is also one of the most powerful agents working in our world.

Mix it with a little trust and the gates of Hell get rattled.

Mon Dieu!

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