Straddling Cultures

(By Alyssa)

If you read Lindsay’s blog post below then you will understand why my usual answer to the question, “What are you most looking forward to about being in America besides family and friends?” is “Anonymity!” I long for the day when I can go on a hike or walk without attracting hoards of people staring at me and calling out “muzungu.” I look forward to shopping without the chaos of a Burundian market with all its stressors of both people staring and having to barter awkwardly in Kirundi. And I eagerly anticipate driving around by myself in a land where the traffic rules are clear and there are no goats, small children, or huge potholes to avoid white-knuckled while simultaneously being aware of all the roadside attention bestowed on the rarity of a white, female driver. 

But now I’ve been in America for two months of my home assignment, and what has surprised me has actually been the isolation of life here. I walk my parents’ dog in their zero-lot line neighborhood and rarely come across another person. Does anyone actually live in all those climate-controlled houses? I run errands and sit in traffic alone in my little bubble with just a quick greeting to the cashier. And in waiting rooms and checkout lines I join my fellow Americans in quickly pulling out my phone for work or entertainment or to make sure I haven’t missed anything. 

Maybe the grass is greener on the other side. (Course it literally is greener in Burundi where green banana palms greet the eye in all directions instead of the concrete of development!) 

But I feel torn in observing this great cultural difference. Burundians prioritize relationships and would probably find the independance of American life strange. It seems when I walk alone there that people want to join me because they can’t fathom why anyone would want to be alone. They live with their extended families and even all share the same bed, so it must be hard for them to fathom why I would live by myself. As for me, I think my first phrase as a toddler was “do by self!” And I’m embarrassed to report how often that is still my first thought! But as much as I was looking forward to anonymity in America, I actually find myself missing the more constant people time in Burundi. Lives are intertwined there to a greater degree than is comfortable for most North Americans. But there’s beauty in the messiness and our hope is to welcome others as Christ welcomes us. And as we fail at that, we remember once again how much we need the gospel - for Christ to redeem our hearts that often struggle in welcoming others at inopportune moments. In the end I think the communal vs. individualistic cultural differences are just that - ways of life that are different but neither right nor wrong. I long for both at different times of my life, and I feel privileged to get to experience the unique life of two different cultures on a regular basis. But I also no longer feel fully comfortable in either culture. I eagerly anticipate the day when God will bring each of us and all cultures to full redemption in his eternal Kingdom and we will finally truly be home. In the meantime, living cross culturally isn’t always easy in Burundi or North America, so please pray for more peace and grace for our team and for those we live and work with as we encounter cultural differences. 


African Owling

Our surroundings in Kibuye lend themselves to wonderment at God’s creation and an inclination toward engaging one’s natural curiosity. Fortunately for the large number of kids on our team, learning is not isolated to the classroom at Kibuye Hope Academy. Only a week and a half ago, the school year began, but already the students are extending their learning beyond the schoolhouse. Friday was our first Learning Experience day at KHA, one of the new elements added to the school curriculum this year.

This summer, a family of owls moved onto the compound. One young owlet was soon visible in the groove of a nearby tree with the parents in constant watch over the nest. This family of owls was the focus of the Learning Experience. The day began with a reading of Owl Moon to learn about owling, or how to find owls in the wild. On the nature walk that followed, the students found evidence of the owls: feathers, owl pellets, the empty nest. It was not until everyone was walking back to the school that we sighted the owls high up in a tree. Everyone had a chance to watch the owl as he watched us and flew from tree to tree. Ella (7th grade) remarked, “everyone was super excited to see the owl.”

After the nature walk, each class dissected owl pellets that were carefully collected over the summer for this purpose. The children were able to identify bones from shrews, rodents, and at least one small bird from the different owl pellets. “I liked dissecting the pellets and finding all the bones,” commented Matéa and Anna (8th and 7th grade). Later in the day the students transitioned from empirical investigation of owls to exploring owls in art and literature. “Studying the owls and learning about owls in literature,” was the best part of the day according to Micah (6th grade).

In the afternoon, the students had more hands-on activity as they learned about composting and garden maintenance. Discovering how "trash" can be used to cultivate the land and provide delicious vegetables or beautiful flowers gives feet to the command to "subdue the earth" as we become a part of God's overall plan to restore what is broken. It is a privilege to be a part of this kind of learning here with our team and our children.

Not only do all of these situations serve to engage the kids and make for an enjoyable day, it makes education a worshipful experience and opens eyes to the greatness of our God. As we watch owls soar and wonder at the soft down feathers of the over-stuffed looking baby owl, we see God's handy work and the beauty of our Creator. It connects us to this amazing place to which He has called our team and our kids.


Remember Who You Are

(from Lindsay)

In Kibuye, we are the mzungu or white people. We are often reminded of this identity as we hear “ma-zoooon-gu” rising up from the valley on a breeze from a disembodied voice. In this case, the speaker is far away and is usually shrouded in the banana trees below. Even driving down the road at high speeds, groups of children remind us of who we are in this place as they yell, “mzungu” in a staccato-like fashion so as to get it all in before the car passes. Then, there is the up close and personal, “Mzungu, give me…” that has a more demanding tone. No matter how or when it is said, most mzungu feel annoyed on some level by the term – even though, generally, we make light of it.

In order to illustrate why a low-level annoyance surrounds these situations, I will share two stories. A couple of months ago, I talked to our daughter and some of her friends about the danger of telling secrets. Our daughter and Girl One were whispering and Girl Two heard her name – nothing else, just her name. She burst into tears, convinced that these girls who were supposed to be her friends were saying mean things about her. More than that, she felt left out by people she loved and wanted to be loved by.

This “kid drama” was solved in one conversation, apologies were issued, eyes were dried, and all was right again in their world as they played together that afternoon. The above scenario is a microcosm of life in Burundi for the white westerner, however. When I walk into church, rows of people turn around and stare – several times, often tittering to one another, smiling, and staring again. Though the adult drama plays out differently (we smile and wave or greet the onlookers with “Amahoro” rather than bursting into tears), the confusion in my heart is not dissimilar from my crying five-year-old friend. Even when I can enjoy the moment for what it is or make silly jokes about feeling like one of the Big Five that safari-goers hope to see in places like Kenya, it does point out the obvious – I am other, the odd one out.

More than being the odd one out, though, this situation brings up questions of identity. To most in Kibuye, I am a white person. Within our missionary community, I am a teacher. Many American churches associate me with the role of missionary. So, I am a white missionary teacher. Or, am I?

Crossing cultures is a constant process of deconstructing and reconstructing one’s identity. It is about facing the loss of who you’ve always been, evaluating the things that demand to act as a replacement for those aspects of my identity that need to be or can be forsaken, and seeking the truth about who I actually am. Moreover, it is about seeking the truth about who God is and who I am in light of who He is. False identities (white missionary teacher) threaten to overtake me daily, but they are not who I am.

But God is faithful. He will be faithful to give me more of Himself, more of His love, and more security in my identity in Christ as I continue in the process of crossing cultures. He will remind me that I am not an object, a role, or even a dispensary of goods and services (“Mzungu, give me…). He will continue to remind me that I am His child – safe and secure in His love.

The challenge for me (and I suspect for many missionaries) is to live into my identity in Christ rather than under the burden of any other identity that does not reflect my wholeness in and unity to Jesus. This is the only way I can love my neighbors – outside or inside the wall of our compound, outside or inside the boundaries of Burundi.


Househelpers: Kibuye Kitchen Heros

Julie’s recent blog post described the rice and beans and other creations that come out of our Kibuye kitchens.  Today I’d like to tell you who is instrumental in Kibuye kitchen work.  It’s our househelpers.  God bless them.  We love them.  They play a significant role in enabling our families to eat and live and thrive here. 

Darius masters the chapati.
Why?  As Julie mentioned, there are almost no prepared foods available here.  Almost no canned vegetables, so we wash off the dirt and cook them ourselves. No dishwashers, so every dish is washed by hand. For bread, we start with proofing the yeast. For rice, we start with sorting out rocks from grains of rice.  Obviously, these tasks, and every step from start to table, take a lot of time.  We need help in the kitchen so that we all can work outside of the kitchen and still eat every day.

We now have a cadre of nine capable, trustworthy, helpful folks who work in Kibuye missionary houses.  They generally work from 9am to 2pm, cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning.  And smiling.  It appears that every one of them enjoys the job.  They certainly have lots of bonus entertainment as we all need to speak Kirundi with them. 
Juvenal and Liam sort beans. Juvenal works hard and loves kids.

Salvatore has cooked for McLaughlins almost 4 years
Yes, there are challenges, including language blunders and a steep learning curve for everyone involved.  There are occasional mix-ups like confusing curry powder with chili powder.  We also have regular Amelia Bedelia moments, so we learn to specify very clearly what we mean by our requests.  But with work and attention, we all keep learning, and the househelpers become expert cooks with several recipes perfected over the years.
Christophe, expert bread-maker, is househelper by day, security guard by night, and pastor on the weekends, supporting his wife and 8 children.

As these househelpers help us in our homes, they also help us to understand the local culture better.  They answer our questions, and some of them correct our Kirundi.  They invite us to their homes and to cultural celebrations.

Delissa got married last summer and now continues to work 3 days per week.  This is her wedding reception.

This summer Krista attended Delissa's Guhekereza ceremony for her new baby.

Francine called us to visit in the hospital when her new baby was born.

Emelyne watches little Liam and coaches him in Burundian basket-carrying.

Our kids like to visit the home of our househelper, Amon. 

All of these Kibuye househelpers are a great blessing to us, and we are thankful for them.


Last Words

(from Eric)

This morning, after I finished morning report with my medical students, I walked outside and was approached by a stranger.  He was a man about my age who addressed me in decent French.  

“I want to ask you something.”  Hmm, these conversations usually don’t go well.  I don’t recognize this man, and the odds that I’m the person to help him are slim.  Often, this situation is where someone with some education chooses to approach me randomly in order to try and get some special treatment, which is something that I’m neither in favor of nor very good at effecting, even if I wanted to.

I try to not let my frustration at this interruption show.  He starts to tell me that his pregnant wife was seen by Rachel for a problem with her placenta.  That she had an appointment for Monday, but was told to come back sooner if something went wrong.  She’s about 30 weeks along, and she started having contractions last night, so they came to the hospital.  Rachel’s not at the hospital today, but one of our Burundian partner doctors is on the maternity service.  I tell this guy that this doctor will see his wife shortly, and he will decide what is necessary.  He seems OK with this. 

As he leaves, I examine my own frustration.  I guess, in the end, he was just looking to take care of his wife by making sure Rachel was informed, and he incorrectly assumed that I was the best route for this.  However, he seemed willing to be redirected.  I hope that my annoyances didn’t show, and that he overall felt like I had responded in a caring fashion.

A few hours later, I pass the hospital canteen, walking with a student to go and get the ECG machine.  The husband is sitting on the half-wall that separates the sidewalk from the canteen veranda.  I think about greeting him, but I don’t really want to be seen as the point of connection for him, so I walk by without saying anything.  He didn’t seem to notice me.

One hour after that, I’m getting ready to go home for lunch.  I notice one of our medical students crying in the arms of another student, which is a notably public display of emotion in this normally stoic culture.  When I come home, I ask Rachel how her morning was.

She tells me that the wife did deliver prematurely, a little baby about 1.5kg, which hopefully will be big enough to survive in our NICU.  Then, while they were working on delivering her placenta, her blood pressure dropped out, and she was struggling to breathe.  At this point, they did call Rachel to come in, and she ran to the hospital, only to find that she had died.

We don’t know why.  The blood loss doesn’t explain it.  In the end, we can formulate hypotheses, but we can’t think of anything we could have done to prevent such a death.  But she’s gone.

Unexpected interruption.  Peevish emotions.  Controlled response.  Maybe kind?  Early birth.  Gentle hope.  Shocking tragedy.

Among other things, I continue to replay my little conversation with the husband in my mind.  His world has been so changed today that I’m probably the last thing he’s thinking about.  Yet it feels important to me that I treated him kindly, that my little role expressed somehow that God loves him and cares for him.  That though God has given him a world that has devastated him today, that hope hasn’t disappeared forever.  That though his baby will never know his mother, he might still grow up to be a joy for him.  That death will not be the final word.

I’m quite sure that my conversation didn’t communicate all that, but it’s what I find myself desperately wanting to say.  I wonder if I’ll think about this the next time that someone interrupts me with a random request.

At the end of the day, I’m walking out of the hospital, along the little concrete retaining wall next to the dirt road.  It’s pretty quiet, and a group of boys are running laps in the soccer field in front of the church.  I haven’t seen the husband.  Maybe he’s gone.  Maybe he’s with the baby.

What comes to mind are some old Rich Mullins lyrics:

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
so few inches apart
We must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.


Kibuye Kitchens

by Julie

When people ask me what I miss about living in a developed country, my answer is usually: restaurants. I love going out, looking at menus, visiting local dives, trying new things, sitting in coffee shops. I love traveling to new places by soaking in the atmosphere of a restaurant – the lighting, the music, the smells, the sounds of sizzling coming from the kitchen. And ok, I’ll admit it, I like going out because it means I am not cooking or doing dishes! I finish my meal and someone magically whisks away the dirty dishes and I enjoy a cup of coffee and possibly a yummy dessert. Going out to eat has always been a treat, but since living in rural Burundi for almost a year, I have really come to appreciate the luxury of restaurants!

So what DO we do for meals here at Kibuye? Without restaurants or any prepackaged, frozen, or boxed food options, planning ahead is a must for every meal. I am definitely not a chef, but I have learned so much about cooking – and life in general – from the other women on our compound.
With limited ingredients available locally, these women amaze me in their creativity and “can do” attitudes! What they can prepare, some days without electricity or running water, is inspiring.

We all hail from different parts of the US, Canada, or UK, so each of us have different dishes that we cook to make our homes feel like “home”. For me it’s cornbread in a cast iron skillet when I’m homesick.  For Lindsay it’s the days-long process of making sauerkraut. Even with our different “specialties” and “go to” dishes, we all use the same basic ingredients, so there are some similarities in our weekly menus.

Breakfasts are usually oatmeal or zucchini bread, eggs and whatever type of fruit is in season. Bananas are plentiful and always a favorite! Very rarely someone will make a treat like donuts on a weekend, but ohhhhh, there is nothing better than biting into a piping hot homemade donut! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) they are very time consuming to make, so for the most part – we try and keep it simple.

All the Kibuye families seem to have the staple “rice and beans” at least one day per week. There is one type of bean produced locally and we all buy about 1 kilo dried beans every week. The dusty beans must be carefully inspected by hand before soaking because the bag is peppered with sticks, rocks, dirt and little bugs who love to burrow inside the beans. But they are very affordable, as is the rice. Many families have a big batch on hand not only for their family, but also to help feed the Burundian househelpers, gardeners, and night guards who help us with everyday life.

Another dish that appears almost weekly in most of our kitchens is pizza! Pizza has always been a favorite of mine. But I must admit I liked it because it was so easy. I could order right from my phone, wait about 40 minutes for the doorbell to ring, serve it on paper plates, and voila! Easy delicious meal with no clean-up!

Here in Burundi, “pizza night” is still just as fun, but it is anything but easy. If you have ever made your own pizza dough, you know it must rise, be rolled out, and placed on a carefully prepared pan. None of us have pizza stones, so most pizza at Kibuye is baked on a rectangular cookie sheet. We make our own pizza sauce from tomatoes grown locally, but Italian seasoning is not something you can buy here, so we have all packed some in our suitcases (or asked visitors to bring some with them!).

The cheese stands alone
We can purchase only one type of cheese in a shop about 30 minutes away. It is generic in its flavor, probably best described as a cousin to Colby or perhaps a very mild cheddar. So it’s not exactly mozzarella, but it’s our only option, and it works for us! Popular pizza toppings among the families are green bell peppers, onions, pineapple, and sometimes imported canned mushrooms or olives. Pepperoni is a rare treat from America that gets used only for special occasions!

Making pizza by flashlight
All meat, for that matter, is sort of a “special occasion” thing. There is a boucherie (butcher shop) about three hours away in the capital city, Bujumbura, but getting meat up the hill to us is no small feat. Someone from our team goes to Bujumbura at least once a month, and they may go by the boucherie, but there are many obstacles. The shop is not open on Sundays, and we tend to go to Bujumbura on the weekends. When we do buy meat, we put it in a freezer bag, which sits in a hot car for a few hours driving up the hill. We must put it in the freezer the moment we arrive at Kibuye, but often our refrigerators are without power for 12+ hours, so the meat may not sufficiently freeze quickly enough. I have unfortunately thrown out more precious meat than I would like to admit, so we have learned not to buy that much, and don’t depend on having meat a lot. The whole compound is either full-time or part-time vegetarians, by necessity if not by choice.

We make sure our families are getting protein from non-meat sources, but this highlights one of many reasons there is so much malnutrition in Burundi. If our families, who have refrigerators, electricity, cars, and money, struggle to get protein into our diets, imagine how much more difficult it is for the average Burundian to incorporate meat into theirs!

Some Burundians might periodically buy a goat kebab, or brochette, sold at a local stand in our village. They are really tasty, and it’s fun to watch them cook, but you need to buy them on the right day, at the right time, if you want good meat!

Some days I can allow my mind to drift away to large grocery stores and cool restaurants. I can even feel sorry for myself at times that I don’t have everything at my fingertips like I used to. And yet, when I look around me, it seems almost ridiculous the amount and variety of food that I do eat here compared to the Burundians we see every day. It is a paradox. In some ways we feel like we “do without”, but we know we also have much more than is necessary. So this is what we grapple with. Even food reveals our sin nature. But we carry on, being thankful for what we have and letting ourselves splurge on occasion without guilt.

We appreciate your prayers as we daily face the severe poverty around us, wanting to help, but wanting even more to help empower the future leaders of this nation to care for their own. Pray for our families. Pray that our homes and dinner tables will be places of peace, laughter, and thankfulness.

And if you ever come visit us in Burundi, you will have the opportunity to taste African rice and beans and goat brochette from the village, but you may also be surprised by the culinary creations you will find in any of our homes!

Bon appetit! 


Africa Is Not Poor

by Greg Sund

During our time in language school, each semester we were asked to research and present an “exposé” on a subject of our choosing (in French, of course).  One of my classmates, a surgeon heading to Togo, gave a presentation entitled “Africa Is Not Poor”.  His presentation was based on a recent report which explored the movement of wealth into and out of Africa (specifically Sub-Saharan Africa) each year.  The results were surprising.  Despite the billions of dollars flowing into Africa each year in the form of aid, grants, loans and investments, the net outflow is considerably more, an estimated 41.3 billion dollars annually.  

While so many people living in Africa remain trapped in poverty, we need to remain cognizant of the fact that Africa is in many ways rich: rich in potential mineral resources, biodiversity, business, music, art, and of course rich in people who are strong and intelligent and capable of achieving great things, if given the opportunity to develop these gifts.  Yet much of Africa has been and continues to be exploited by foreign powers.  For many years this occurred in the form of colonialism.  More recently this exploitation tends to occur through multinational corporations in the form of tax dodging, exportation of commodities, illegal logging and fishing and a myriad of other mechanisms.  

“Africa is not poor. Whilst many people in African countries live in poverty, the continent has considerable wealth. A key problem is that the rest of the world, particularly Western countries, are extracting far more than they send back. Meanwhile, they are pushing economic models that fuel poverty and inequality, often in alliance with African elites.”
This is without a doubt a complicated problem, and I certainly don’t claim to have the answers to this problem.  Furthermore, I don’t want to suggest that the answer is cutting off investment in Africa.  I think investment in Africa is a positive step.  But I do believe that the world needs to look more carefully at how that investment is taking place, and if the practices in place now are truly fair and just.  The article outlines nine policies that it suggests are needed to reverse these resource outflows, including enabling transparent and responsible lending, elimination of companies exploiting tax havens, and a transformation of how aid is delivered and used in Sub-Saharan Africa.  
How can we, a team of missionary physicians serving in a rural hospital in Burundi work for transformation of this global injustice?  To be certain, while our sphere of influence is limited, one does exist.  We have influence in the lives of our students, who we hope will become the next generation of African physicians and community leaders in Burundi and it’s neighboring countries.  These East African students can be empowered to understand practices and policies that will lead to greater equity for THEIR people, not just equity of healthcare but equity of investment and aid and human rights.  
The key task is to dismantle the system extracting wealth from Africa. This requires action by African civil society organisations to press for change in their countries, and action by civil society organisations in the countries that are enabling this wealth extraction to take place … Global elites have no intrinsic interest in changing a system that benefits them. It is critical for civil society organisations to expose the role of multinational corporations and Northern governments in impoverishing Africa and to step up their work in building coalitions to end tax dodging and other unfair resource transfers out of Africa.”
How can one teach and empower another people group to understand and work toward justice?  I believe that one needs to see justice from the eyes of our Creator.  And in order to have hope, one needs to have confidence that He cares about every form of injustice on this earth.  We as a team believe that it is through the power of the Gospel, that this deeper understanding of justice is revealed.  And so we are working not just to teach medicine, but to come alongside our African partners as they seek answers to much bigger questions.  As we see the massive importance of justice to our Creator, and the massive role that justice played in our redemption through Christ our Savoir, we are transformed and empowered to see, to understand and to respond.  Transformation is possible.  Indeed, all things are possible with God.  
For those interested, here is a link to the full report: Honest Reports


Things That Go Bump In The Night: A Guava Tale

by Logan

Sometime around the end of May, the rains suddenly stopped and dry season began. Shortly thereafter the first guavas began appearing on the trees outside our apartment. For the Banks family, this is our first dry season and our first guava season. At first, this novel new fruit was welcomed by all. As more became ripe, the crowds and enjoyment grew. I’m not sure how to describe the taste exactly, there is a sweetness and a tartness. My boys describe the taste like a mix between a strawberry and a peach. I’m open to other suggestions. I was just excited to have such a delicious fruit growing right outside my backdoor. 

Zeke enjoying his first guava

That is, until they started falling off the trees. And landing on my tin roof. In the middle of the night.

The guavas were becoming so ripe and so numerous that they would get too heavy for the branch and would fall off the tree. The problem is, many of the branches extend out over our roof. When the guavas fall and hit the thin layer of metal, it can sound like a gunshot going off. As more and more ripen, these loud noises are becoming more and more frequent. During the day, they are only mildly annoying and easy enough to ignore. But at night, as darkness and quietness descend on the compound, the guava rears its ugly head and goes, “BANG!!” 

I have been woken so suddenly in the middle of the night by these loud noises that I have found myself in the middle of the living room, arms raised in a kung-fu pose, ready to protect my family, before I realized it was just a guava. 

This fruit is starting to make me think of that guy at a party that doesn’t notice a hush has fallen and keeps talking in a too-loud voice. Only a guava can't feel embarrassment, he just continues making outburst after outburst. 

At night, it takes me about 45 minutes or so to get the boys settled down for bed, read them a story, sing a song and pray. Then as I slowly leave their room and shut the door, it’s hard not to spend a few minutes cringing waiting for the next guava to bounce off the roof. And it usually doesn’t disappoint.

So recently I decided to take matters into my own hands. One afternoon, I found a very long bamboo stick and started whacking the guava tree outside my backdoor. I have to admit it felt pretty good. I enjoyed hearing those dozens and dozens of BANGs that were happening at 3:00 in the afternoon instead of 3:00 in the morning. I whacked and whacked until no more would fall. I must have knocked down a few hundred. There were still some guavas left, they just weren’t ripe enough to be knocked out of the tree. The boys helped me collect them and it made a nice gift to all the guards and night watchmen of the compound. 


This situation has reminded me of the different seasons of life. Some are joyful, some are sad. Some we can’t wait to begin, and some we can’t wait to finish. But God has a plan to teach us something during each season. Even in the season of mild-guava-frustration, God is there, reminding us that there is still sweet fruit waiting for us. Fruit that He has provided. So as guava season is beginning to come to a close, I am encouraged to appreciate this season for what it is. And to enjoy the sweetness and the tartness that life has to offer. 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-5
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together…


Building 19

There are few things more rewarding in life than watching someone you love, do something they love. It was such an honor to watch my husband work on this new two-story surgical ward from the very start (18 months ago) to it's completion (last week!). Although building hospitals in rural Africa has been one of Caleb's life-long dreams, the job is not without it's fair share of difficulties. Caleb has repeatedly mentioned how grateful he is that God provided the best mentor for this first major project through a wise, humble engineer with EMI, Tony Sykes. Together, with about 250 Burundian masons and builders, these men built one of the most beautiful hospital wards in all of East Africa. And on July 14, 2017, the President of Burundi came to open it up.

Please enjoy these pictures of the journey.


"National Pride" Day

by Rachel

We often don’t celebrate American holidays on the days that the rest of Americans celebrate.  For one thing, obviously, they aren’t Burundian holidays and thus if the holiday falls on a weekday (as Thanksgiving always does) it’s a normal work day for us.  But I do want to celebrate, for several reasons.  One, I’ve grown up celebrating certain holidays in certain ways and feel quite nostalgique at certain times of the year.  Two, even though my kids have spent most of their lives outside the US, they will return some day and I’d like them to have a good understanding of certain holidays.  So this year, July 4th came and went.  My Facebook feed was filled with pictures of fireworks, sparklers, and berry topped desserts…and it all felt rather anticlimactic here, where a teammate graciously played patriotic songs for my kids while they colored flag pictures, and I worked a normal day.  

Fortunately, the team rallied and we decided to celebrate on July 8th instead. It wasn’t July 4th, and Burundian independence day had come and gone (mostly unnoticed by us) on the 1st….plus, the team is no longer solely Americans.  In honor of our Canadian teammates and our British short term visitors, we decided to name the day “National Pride” celebration day.  Since Canada and Britain aren’t independent in quite the same way. :)  In typical Kibuye fashion, the holiday needed to be modified somewhat to fit our resources, but we still tried to make it as “classic” as possible.  Scott and Lindsay picked up a couple of small Burundian “Jikos,” clay and metal pots filled with charcoal that are used instead of stoves, and created them into a small grill.  Potato salad, deviled eggs, and french fries appeared on the tables, along with a three layer red white and blue cake.  (And, to be honest, Indian style rice, papaya, and other local foods in lieu of chips and jello).  There had been an embassy 4th of July party (in June) and so a few people showed up with “Uncle Sam” style hats.  We ate on picnic blankets under the trees and a few rounds of horseshoes and baseball followed the food.
The grill master!
Jiko grill!
A good time was had by all.  It got me thinking about my heritage as an American, and how interesting it is to step out of my home culture and see it through new eyes.  It’s now over seven years since we left the US to work in Africa.  I identify less and less as a typical American, but not necessarily more as a Burundian.  I'm really grateful in a lot of ways for the culture in which I grew up.  There are things that I used to take for granted, that I now know are privileges instead of rights.  The freedoms I experienced (and still do) as an America are far from standard in the world.  And I think that working for similar freedoms for people of other countries--freedom to worship, free to pursue health and an education, free to live without fear of starvation--is a GOOD and even necessary thing.  Perhaps without my American "past" I wouldn't see things in the same light. 

Of course, living outside America has been a good thing for me too, and almost every day I count it a blessing to have had my world view expanded (and to have it continually expanded!).  To be able to see the joys and sufferings of people from a world far different from my own, to see how we are different and yet still in many ways the same.  To experience the challenges of communicating in other languages, to know how it feels to go without, to feel the shock of foreignness but eventually to accept the foreignness as the new normal.  So, happy independence day, America!  Thanks for the role you play in my life.  And happy independence day to Burundi!  Thanks for being my new home. May we continue to work together to make it a better place.