A Hike Up Mt. Heha

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Most Saturdays are quiet “at home” days for us, to catch up on undone work of the week or plan for the next week’s classes. Recently, a friend of ours organized a Saturday hike to the highest mountain in Burundi, Mt. Heha (elevation 8,759 ft). I was ready to join like a bee to honey, especially because this friend, Dan, was born in Burundi and speaks Kirundi (very handy when your going into the interior). My “other half” preferred the usual Saturday “stay at home”. (couch-potatoe!) As it turned out just three of us were able to get away for that day, but it was such a great adventure that we decided to try to make it a monthly outing

6NkVvMM+TH+Q%VqhP5e%cQ_thumb_6342Burundi is a country full of “mountains”, although they seem more like hills because Lake Tanganyika is already at 3,000 feet. We were assured it would not be a strenuous hike because it had just a 300 ft. elevation from where we would park the car. Most of the climbing was in the car on the 1½ hour drive there. Heading east from the capital Bujumbura we twisted and turned up the paved road for about 45 minutes, through a few small villages, then headed out one of the dirt road for another 45 minutes. I was really thankful Dan knew where he was headed and had a GPS to verify he was going in the right direction

FZFnfuvAT2eiVOzUsUkcaA_thumb_635cParking the car at a bend in the road with a wide, flat place, we found it was a station on some sort where the local men were loading different products in to the back of cars or trucks to take to Bujumbura to sell. Dan was able to verify with them that we were in the right place. We started up, past several plots with the traditional round huts mixed with the more modern square brick homes being careful to step on the goat trails rather than through their gardens.

 

 

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We quickly found ourselves in some of the strangest flora and fauna I’ve seen in Burundi. Nearly the whole hike was covered with small pine trees—a more recent import that was initiated as an alternative to the eucalyptus trees brought in earlier. There were large carpets of bright green mosses growing under the pine trees along with ferns and wild orchids. Since we didn’t know what to expect we really didn’t have any preconceived ideas, this made the discoveries along the way all the more interesting and softened the blow that on reaching the “top” we couldn’t see a view due to the growth of pines in all directions. In fact, all we found at the top were two large holes dug into the ground perhaps for mining something. As we headed back to the car it occurred to me that the process of getting to the top was so much more interesting than the actual “top of the mountain”—how profoundly like life that is.

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At the top of Mt. Heha 

Since it was only noon, and not raining, Dan suggested we take the “back road” to his coffee washing station and return to Bujumbura by a different route. After asking a few people on the road if it was passable (sure, on two feet!) he was game to try especially since he had 4-wheel drive. We were in! The road was mostly passable but there were more than a few sketchy places. One patch in particular called for Dan to get out of the car to figure out just how to maneuver it, not only did it have huge ruts from a large truck but it was on a 90 degree curve with a log bridge at the bottom just after the curve. Pictures don’t do it justice. But Dan placed the tires on top of the dirt between the ruts and slide down it, catching the turn and fishtailing it across the log bride as if he drove it every day. The drive was an adventure, to be sure! Dan was an excellent driver and tour guide. It’s hard to describe or even show in pictures just how steep the hills are here and yet they are farmed from bottom to top. Having this opportunity to travel literally across country caused me again to appreciate just how beautiful Burundi is.

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After about an hour of excitement on the dirt road we reached the coffee washing station. It’s coffee harvesting time so the washing station is just beginning to get underway. Dan walked us all around it, explaining the process of washing the beans, the different washing tanks, the separation of the different sizes of beans and the different processes of drying them (it’s way more complicated than I imagined!). He and his local Burundian partner have created jobs for the people in this area and want to help the farmers expand coffee production. Eventually they hope to build an eco-lodge on the location and expand into essential oil production as well. They have picked a beautiful location with 360 views of the beautiful Burundi hills.

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Last stop on our way back to Bujumbura was the Livingstone Stone, a large rock with Livingstone’s name chiseled into it. Some come here to take a picture, others to ask for what they can get from the picture takers. It was a quick stop, not nearly as interesting as everything else we’d see that day.

I returned home renewed in appreciation for the beauty of Burundi and inspired by our friend’s entrepreneurship and commitment to Burundi. It was one of the better Saturdays I’ve had and I’ve glad I didn’t stay home.

 

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Oh Happy Day!

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Some of the 79 Medical School graduates for whom Randy been the Dean.

This past Friday over 500 students from Hope Africa University received their diplomas! Seventy-nine of the graduates were from the School of Medicine! It was a proud day for them, their families and for all who have given to their education though teaching, mentoring, modeling and financial means.

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Students lining up by departments, Families being seated.  Drummers ready.

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Center stage!

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Lots of finery and fancy dress.

It was a great day of celebration and ceremony. The parking lot became the scene for the commencement filled with tents and chairs and the podium in the middle. Everyone was attired in festive clothes as families gathered to witness this day of honor and culmination. Photos were taken before, during and after capturing the moment that will not be forgotten

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Drummers opening the day.

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After the graduates had all walked in and taken their seats the ceremony was officially open with prayer, the national anthem, and the traditional Burundi drummers. There were speeches by all the important dignitaries—rector, head of the board, bishop, government education official, student body president—and several songs by a choir. One of the highlights (aside from the drummers who are always a highlight) was a performance of singing and dancing by a group of students representing the 19 different countries present at HAU. Their energy and gratitude was evident and complimented by the rest of the student body that join in singing with them.

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Some of the 19 countries represented at HAU

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Cameroon and Rwanda flags

It’s been a long road for these graduates, filled with failures and successes, trying times of learning, new experiences and many challenges. All of which made this day even more rewarding and joy-filled. For Randy, and the other Kibuye ex-pat. doctors, it was especially gratifying as they have taught these students over the last four year—the majority of their clinical/medical courses. This is the largest group of doctors they have graduated because it’s the combination of two programs that have been combined by the government (those who started on a 7-year program and those who then had a 6-year program as the government changed the medical program to be in line with the East African Union post-graduate degrees). They have nurtured their learning, encouraged their growth and facilitated their progress in a myriad of ways that can easily be overlooked. But on this day all those efforts paid off and joined in the applause with smiles and the best kind of pride.

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Presenting the medical students for declaration of their commencement.

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Passing out the diplomas after the ceremony.

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Look!  We did it!

The day after the graduation there was a party for the medical students (which they organized, set-up and officiated). It was such a pleasure to see them able to assemble together as a class or group one last time, to congratulate one another, to thank those who had lead the way for them to become doctors and to savor this moment of completion.

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Some of the Kibuye doctors who came down to Buja for the commencement.

For those of us who have come to Burundi, responding to God’s call to help raise up “a generation of societal leaders”, it was a sweet, sweet day indeed. One we will savor as a testimony to God’s faithfulness whenever there are discouragements with the surety of HOPE.

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Congratulations doctors!  Oh Happy Day!

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Welcome Back!

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Late fall in Pacific north-west. Definitely not Burundi!

Like a revolving door, I hear these words on many fronts in my life as we find ourselves traveling back and forth between Burundi and the U.S.  Each location has meaningful relationships, ongoing commitments and purposeful work.  It’s a privilege and a necessity for us at this time, and quite surprisingly, a way of life I’m “getting use to”.  The challenge, of course, is to be present in the moment whenever and wherever that may be.

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Serge’s booth at GHMC–Wouldn’t you want to work with these friendly faces?

In the past few months we’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice (four times for Randy).  Between us, we’ve visited ten to fifteen different places in the U.S. (not all of them together).  We’ve had doctor and dentist appointments, updates with supporters, meetings with potential future team members.  We attended the Global Health Missions Conference, taken care of family business, reunited with our adult children for the Christmas holidays and even enjoyed a white Christmas in Seattle.

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Cross country skiing!

On the return to Burundi we diverged in England  for another conference with team leaders of our organization.  Yes, it was a busy time with a lot packed into it and amazingly, all flights, but one, were on time, no luggage was lost, we were healthy the whole time (even with the “wrong” flu shot this year).

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Conference center in south-east England

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East Africa team leaders

What made it all a joy was the heartfelt “welcome back” we received in every home, city, church and place we stayed.  Though we’ve been living abroad for six years now (four in Burundi) we continue to experience the deep care, support and friendship of those we so often must say good-bye to.  And although our daily lives no longer evolve around the same activities, events and familiar places we continue to share, grow and learn, albeit in separate places.  So when we do meet up again our moments are filled with deep sharing, joy-filled laughter and recounting our stories from our different places and life experiences.  For those present moments the time we’ve been away gets compressed into shortness, swallowed up by the greater depth of connecting in the trust of relationship.

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One present moment of joy with family!

I find this happens in both worlds I live in.  There is a trust that’s built in relationships over time, over experiences, over comings and goings.  Modern technology facilitates us in so many ways to stay connected with people on either side of the globe.  But it’s being willing to open my heart to trust that actually connects us to one another.  To trust the other person truly is “for me”, for my well-being, and I am “for them”, that’s what draws us together in the moments of presence.  When I return to Burundi I sense this trust building in the relationships we have with those we work with, those who work for us and those we are growing in relationship with through church and ministry.  It’s the unspoken: “Your came back!  You care!  You’re here now! How wonderful is that?”.

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To all of you who welcomed us back on either side where we live our lives–thank you for the welcome, for honoring us with your presence and care, trusting us in relationship and letting us be a part of your lives whenever we are there.

 

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Green Gems–the Edible Kind

 

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Look, in the tree, they are here—those green gems called avocadoes! We have an avocado tree growing in our yard but in nearly four years we’ve never seen an avocado. Apparently it can take from five to thirteen years to produce fruit depending on conditions. So here they are this year!

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Along with pineapples and bananas, avocadoes grow in abundance in Burundi. For me that’s one of the things I really like about Burundi because I really like avocadoes.  Funny thing is it was not always that way. Although I grew up in a state that produced avocadoes it was not until I was in my early 20’s that I actually came to enjoy them as a food.

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When I was a child my mom would often put them in a salad and I would push them to the side of the plate. I disliked the mushy texture and they didn’t seem to have much of a taste. Then at age 21 I was a guest at a home that served half an avocado on a plate with the hole where the seed had been filled with dressing. I almost turned the color of the avocado when the hostess put it down in front of me.  I was a guest, an adult. I couldn’t say, “I don’t like avocadoes.” That would be incredibly childish and unappreciative. When the hostess went back to the kitchen to get something my husband whispered to me, “Do you want me to eat it for you?” The moment of truth—was I an adult or not? “No” I said, “I’ll try.” To my great surprise and delight, after I took one bite, I found I actually liked it! When did that happen? Had my taste buds matured to the point of appreciating the gentle flavor? From that day on I have enjoyed eating avocadoes and count them among my favorite food.

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When we began to look at houses to rent here I made a list of essentials and a “wish list”. On my wish list was a yard with some fruit trees and a balcony. Thankfully we found a house live that has enough space for the many visitors we host, which was an essential. But the added bonus was the presence of things on my ”wish list”: a balcony with a view of Lake Tanganyika, fruit trees and an avocado tree!  We also have two mangoes trees and a small banana tree just planted this year.

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All this is to explain why when I sit on the balcony, looking at the avocado tree full of growing fruit, it speaks to me of waiting, patience, promise, hope, delighting in good things long expected but not yet seen. It makes me think about how there’s a lot that went on here before I came and how much is going on that I can’t see. It makes me think about my own growth away from immaturity to courage, from misplaced certainty to humility. It calls to mind Psalm 103:6 which says, that God “satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”. I think about my journey from hating avocados, to enjoying them, to wishing for them, to getting them in abundance; it makes me laugh with the delight of a child that my heavenly Father knows me so well and grants my longings even when I am not fully aware of them.

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Red, Yellow, Green–What do they mean?

 

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Unbelievable as it may seem, the capital city I live in, a city of about half a million people, has not had a single, working traffic signal. There was one signal at a major thoroughfare but it isn’t functional. As a matter of fact, the CountryReports website (www.countyreports.org) which provides travel information for people traveling internationally says:

“While in Burundi, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.”

“There are no functioning traffic signals in Bujumbura, and virtually nothing of the kind elsewhere in the country.”

One might wonder how people drive with no signals and if there are lots of accidents. How do drivers cross busy intersections? Who has the right-of-way? Good questions!

 

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First, there are some round-a-bouts at three or four of the busiest intersections. Second, the police monitor the major intersections during peak traffic hours. Third, there are not that many cars on the road because most people don’t know how to drive or own a car. Lastly, there’s the “swarm method” for crossing intersections which is quite effective. This is where after waiting for some time to cross a busy intersection with heavy traffic, you begin to slowly easing out into the cross traffic (I usually start honking to warn approaching traffic). This generally works because a line of vehicles (cars, motos and bikes) advances together, much like a swarm of fish or bees, thus causing the oncoming traffic to let others pass. More aggressive drivers use this tactic advancing on their own but those of us with small vehicles like to go “swarm” style. There’s safety in numbers.

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As to the question of right-of-way, that depends on several factors. It may be the size of your vehicle; bigger trucks and cars win over smaller cars and motos. Or it may be the particular street; the cross street that leads to the President’s residence gets priority over the larger boulevard at that intersection.   There is no sign about this. You just learn it from others or nearly get in an accident until you know it and yield.

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All this is to say that much to my chagrin, I can no longer say there are no signals in Bujumbura! I returned from nearly a month out of the country to find not one, but multiple signals functioning and more being installed. Improvement? I’m not so sure.

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The advantage of no signals is that people general drive like water flows in a stream, they move in and out of traffic, around obstacles, without much problem. Generally, no one drives very fast and there are not that many cars. The problem with the signals is that people aren’t used to them or don’t know to stop for them and the signals are very short and not well timed. Thus I fear they will create more accidents and traffic jams. My experience so far is it takes a lot longer to drive around downtown. Such is the way of modernization. My only hope is that this modernization will include road maintenance so perhaps next we’ll see the large potholes being repaired.

 

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Summer break: a cold drink on a hot day

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Today I’m as happy as a dog with two tails! Analogy? Simile? Or metaphor? Such was the last class I taught at Discovery School for the Burundian primary school teachers. For the past 4 weeks I’ve been helping them with their English language skills as they teach their Burundian students in English using an American curriculum. We’ve reviewed tenses, worked on pronunciation focusing on stress, rhythm, and intonation, finished up with analogies, similes and metaphors.

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Giving an example of a simile or metaphor from educational resource cards.

I had the pleasure of working with some of these teachers last year as well, leading a writer’s workshop. Both then and now I found it such a pleasure to work with them because they are so eager to learn, so appreciative of my time and efforts and are just  really joy-filled, fun individuals.

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Group work trying to reconstruct a paragraph of cut up sentences.

They are a special group of teachers because they know they are on the forefront of developing primary education in a new direction in Burundi. They know they are not teaching their students the way they were taught when they went to school. Not only are they teaching in English, instead of French (the language of education in Burundi until just recently when English was added) or their mother tongue, Kirundi; they are using an American curriculum that is culturally bound often to concepts they have not yet learned themselves.   This is a huge challenge but they take it on graciously and in stride. They are willing to learn if someone will lead them but it’s hard to take the initiative when you don’t know where to start because you’ve only known one system for learning and education. Joy Johnson, the founder of the school with husband Jesse, is very aware of this so she’s continually providing them with professional development training and seminars. She is amazing in her energy, vision and hope for the teachers, the students, the school and education in Burundi. I’m so glad to have gotten to know her.

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More metaphors.

Working with these teachers has been a highlight of this past semester. Their enthusiasm, engagement and desire to learn and grow, even during the last month of the school year, have been refreshing and contagious. As we parted for the summer it was with the hope and intention to pick up again in September when school reopens. I look forward to it.  Until then everyone is ready for a break from school.

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Ready to be cool for the summer break!

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Teaching and Learning Go Both Ways

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Playing a game asking questions about the future.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? These are the questions I presented to my English class of 20-somethings as a platform to use future tense. Then it dawned on me that it was about five years ago that we came to visit Burundi for the first time. Did I see myself doing what I’m doing today five years ago? What will they be doing in five short years?

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Two weeks before we were learning about past and past progressive tenses. I asked the students to write a story from their past. It was to be true and memorable. They wrote their stories about a family wedding, a sister’s birthday party, the first television in their village, winning a competition and their first day at Hope Africa University. They also wrote some sad stories of being detained by police, swindled out of money, robbed, and the most common, witnessing a fatal road accident. Out of forty papers, a quarter of them were about a road accident involving one or more fatalities. (We have often been told that the greatest danger in our day-to-day life here is not personal violence or political instability but the risk of a serious road accident and the lack of trauma care in the hospitals. We live these African realities by God’s grace and protection every day.) Each paper I read sparked a memory from my own past of something similar, a common human experience cutting across our cultures uniting us by shared experiences. It shouldn’t surprise me but it always does, we are more alike than different.

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So while I’m teaching these students English as a foreign language, unknown to them, they are teaching me lessons of humility and compassion as they share their stories and lives. Humility because daily I see how alike we are as people; that although I was born in an affluent country rather than in another place I had nothing to do with that. From this daily experiential realization I find my compassion for others has grown and I am continually motivated to do all within my power and ability to assist them in attaining their goals and dreams. Everyone encounters obstacles growing up but these students have experienced them in exponential numbers. And yet, they face their future with a tenacity that testifies to the indomitability of the human spirit. I am curious to see what they will become and what they will do. They are the future for their nations. And I am thankful for the chance I’ve had to know them and be a part of their education.

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Dice and game boards are a new experience for many.

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