Last year I visited Burundi. If as you read this you are thinking, “Oh, really this guy is so cool...” read about it here and find out how I was arrested for not being a soldier. Anyway, I visited Burundi and it was awesome. At first I did not know what to write about the trip and God knows my blog was not going to be one of those travel blogs which tell you where to sleep and for how much (it’s interesting how I ‘erroneously’ typed who to sleep…; thank you backspace). Even so, I still have photos I took in Bujumbura gathering digital dust in my computer and I am convinced that is how computer viruses are created.
Anyway, I was going through some of the photos and I came across some which I had taken at a children’s home. I know what you are thinking: how very cliché it was to have visited a children’s home, well I wasn’t there for a holiday trip and yes, I have a soft spot for kids; alert the authorities if you will. So as I was going through these photos that almost look like those Jungu photos of kids with swollen tummies and flies in their mouths, an insult to the African child, a thought, no, a brilliant thought came to mind. If I had been smart enough to interview these kids, what kind of stories would they give me? Since the only French word I can comfortably pronounce is ‘Ratatouille’, an interview probably would have been as simple as flying an Apache fighter helicopter using an instruction manual written in Japanese. So in this case photos would suffice. Anyway, the brilliant idea, since they didn’t actually tell me any stories, how about I tell their stories for them?
Don’t give me that how-dare-you-judge-innocent-Burundian-kids look; if you ever watched the show, Kids Say The Darndest Things hosted by Bill Cosby and some other old guy…probably dead…of natural causes…or… I digress. If you ever watched that show, you will realize that kids, given a chance, will say some remarkable things.
This post is about these kids, their stories, what they feel, what they dream, what they want to be. It’s not about me giving you some pretentious jib about faith or dreaming big…at least most of it is.
(Fine so this is not a kid, good job Sherlock now if you would let me tell my story) If this van could speak, it could tell of how it had survived the civil war. How it had travelled for miles and seen it all. It wouldn’t have told us of how it ferried rebel soldiers from one check point to the other, and it will definitely not tell you how weapons were smuggled through boarders under its seats. No. those things did not happen. It will however tell you of how it ferried people between check points. How scared mothers would clutch to their children as the brakes screetched to a halt at the sight of a soldier or rebel. How the gun wielding officer would raise one hand as the gun pointed down, or how at times the gun would be pointed at its headlights causing the people in the van much anguish. Amid all these stories, the van would also tell us of how it carried in it a hopeful people, a people with a vision for a better Burundi. It would also tell us of how, after the war, after some development, after homes were built for the orphans, it would be hired out to transport a certain group of kids transferred from one home to another, a new one and while on the road they would sing, fight, sleep, talk and the Nissan van would feel the newness it once felt as it rolled from the port in Dar Es Salaam, to start a new life in the tiny landlocked country, before the war.
Hi, I’m Nannette. That’s me in the picture, the pretty one with the striped top. The guy with the dumb look on his face is my brother Christoph; always stealing my thunder. He is a bit older than me. Probably three years older…I would know if my parents were around to tell me. Actually, I am not really sure how old I am. Sister Ann, our mother, tells me I am still not old enough to ask such questions. I want to be a doctor when I grow up, that’s why I’m always hurting my brother, just to get a chance to heal him. I didn’t do so well on the healing when I stabbed him in the arm with a pencil. Sister Ann says I was seeking for attention, I say I was seeking for some action. This place can get really boring. I’m really glad we are together though, my brother and I, he’s the silliest clown I have ever seen, but even clowns need doctors right?
Do you know how a geothermal portable turbine generator works? No? Neither do I. But I know how rainbows are formed. You see when it rains…oh, sorry I’m Claudinne and I’m a scientist. I’ve read all the books in the study…at least all the science books. I don’t like the silly ones which ask you to color inside the lines, they are stupid…anyone can color inside lines, except for Nannette’s brother, Christoph, he doesn’t pay much attention to instructions; but I do. Instructions are key. When I grow up, I will have my own room with all my chemicals and experiments and I can experiment on real specimens and not Christoph anymore. I will make medicine to heal all the people of Burundi and if I work hard I might become famous like the man with the fuzzy hair whose picture I saw in one of my books. I think he’s called Albert.
Ella and Cynthia
Why do you have such long hair? You know men shouldn’t keep such long hair. Is that thing on your arm for rasta people? Sister Ann does not allow us to wear anything with those colors, she says its for rasta people. Are you one of them? Do you know how to write? I can write my name… C…Y…N…T…H…I…A…Cynthia and this is E…L…L…A. Ella! She doesn’t talk much. She never really talks, all she does is write. She writes her name over and over, then mine, then everyone elses. She writes a lot. I don’t write much, I just like giving stories. People like listening to me though most of the time they shush me. Sister Ann says I talk a lot, just like my mum. I didn’t know her but she must have been really interesting. When I grow up, I will be like the lady in the radio, then the whole world will listen to my stories.
(I ask Ella what she wants to be when she grows up, she takes a crampled paper from her pocket and shows it to me, it looks like a story and the title reads: Pierre and the River Monster, then she immediately pulls it away and puts it back in her pocket. I ask her if I could read her story, she blushes. I smile, then I turn away, kids shouldn’t see tears in men’s eyes…)
(She first stares at me then darts her eyes looking for Sister Ann) I am not allowed to talk to strangers. (I wave at Sister Ann and she waves back. Then Joelle looks at me and smiles, with a sparkle in her eye she lets me in) My name is Joelle. I like flowers and sweets. No I don’t like sweets, Sister Ann says bad people cheat little girls with sweets. I don’t like bad people, they are bad. Bad people came to our village and they did bad things. (She seems to wander off in thought) one day when I was sleeping, I had a dream. Bad people had attacked us, but they were shocked when we didn’t run, instead, we fought them. We didn’t use guns. Gus are bad. We danced and they ran. We danced again ad they ran faster. When I woke up, I asked Sister Ann to teach me how to dance but she told me to read a book, dancing was for bad girls. I don’t believe her. Dancing will make bad people stop being bad one day. Everytime we hear music playing in the radio, we run outside and hide from Sister Ann then we dance; Christoph is a good dancer, everyone makes fun of him but not me. One day we will dance for the president, then he will know how dancing can make bad people stop.
I wanted to play with the guitar, but Sister Ann wouldn’t let me. She never lets me do anything. Every time I bang on the plastic containers she says I am making noise. One time she hit me just because I touched a visitor’s guitar. I really do not understand why she hit me, he was a mzungu he probably had 100 guitars. My name is Rukundu, it means love. There is even a song called Rukundu, it’s my favorite. One day I will write a song called Amahoro, that means peace; then I will sing it all over Burundi then everyone will love it and maybe one day the whole world will hear it and then people will stop fighting. Maybe I should sing one day for the Mzungus who visit us and then they might give me a guitar. When I grow up, I will sing for kings and presidents…you wait and see. (I ask him to sing for me maybe I could give him a guitar) No, you look like you need a guitar too, probably more than I do.
Didn’t I tell you? Kids say the darndest things!