The Testimony of the Vines

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In February, when we first arrived in the southern part of France, all the vineyards were bare.  They were gnarled trunks, devoid of leaves, branches or any signs of being alive. They were dormant, a condition the dictionary describes as “biological rest or suspended animation”.  I watched the vineyards near our residence daily for any evidence of life.  Since we’ve lived on the equator for much of the last eight years I’ve missed the turning of the seasons and the breaking of winter with the first signs of spring.  This year, I hoped to have a front row seat for that annual reawakening from the sleep of winter in a place so lush with horticulture.  I was not disappointed!

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By mid-March, a few green sprigs began to emerge from the dead-looking trunks.  There vines were not dead!  Within their veins new life was pushing out in bright green sprigs of baby leaves.  Over a few days nearly every vineyard we rode past was giving testimony to this turning of the season and the unstoppable force of life bursting forth.  Always a joy to see this dramatic transformation of winter to spring, dormant to awake, seemingly dead to new spring green, this transition was particularly poignant to me.  Death tolls from coronavirus were increasing every day in Italy, Spain and France (where we were).  Much of the world was in grief, despair, lament, horror, sickness and death.

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But not the vines.  The vines were bursting with new growth, with the promise of flowers, fruit and produce. As were the almond trees, peach trees and a whole variety of other produce grown in  the region.

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This became a daily, tangible image of hope for me over the weeks we lived under French  confinement.  An image strong enough to confront the grim realities of the daily news cycle.  It spoke of the unseen force of life that renews, restores and is not controlled by anyone other than the Author of Life.  It reminded me of God’s promise that He is making all things new.  It humbled me to marvel at the goodness of God that is always there even when I can’t see it.  Daily this testimony gave witness to me to not despair or be afraid, for just as new life springs forth from seemingly dead trunks so too the life of God’s spirit in us will bring forth the everlasting fruit of love.  Then I began to see the ways that Spirit of Love was also springing forth in the world—in the nightly cheers to health care workers across the different countries, in the creativity of people using music and art to lift others up through the internet, in the adherence to confinement orders out of the respect and value of human life and in so many unknown, sacrificial acts of kindness and care.

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I am encouraged to live in the promise of new life in connection to Love.  I know I can only do that if I’m connected to the source of life, the Author of Love.  Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)   My desire and hope is to stay connected to the Vine and bear the fruit of love—new life—even as I’ve witnessed this season in nature and in others.

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Vineyards along the Canal de Midi, a favorite biking route.

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Sabbatical Turned to Forced Confinement

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Paris

We left Burundi in the middle of February with a plan to start our sabbatical in France.  The plan was to improve our French language skills by living in France for three months.  This would also put us in an easier position to return quickly to Seattle for the terminal illness of our last living parent.

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Leaving Burundi

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Charles du Gaulle Airport in February

We arrived in France without a specific plan as to where to live.  Most of the leads we’d looked into for housing had fallen through.  So, we head south to Avignon since we had few winter clothes.  We began searching for a living situation in a community big enough to have a library, several churches, tutors or language school but without a lot of English speakers.  After several  more dead ends, by God’s providence, we found a small apartment in the rural environs of the southern town of Béziers.

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Cathedral of Béziers

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One of Béziers’ town squares

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Entrance to our apartment.

We were set!  Ready to dig into improving our language skills and start de-stressing from the work we’d been doing.  We bought bikes for transportation and exercise (no car).  We found a tutor through one of the local language schools.  We got library cards and checked out books in French.  We were warmly welcomed by a small local evangelical church our first Sunday.  We marveled at all the ways God had provided just what we were hoping to find.

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Countryside around Béziers

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Bikes–our transport!

 

Then it became March and the pandemic was declared.  Within a few days we went from social distancing to self-isolation to enforced confinement.  Everything closed.  Flights were cancelled.  Borders were closed.  By God’s providence we are here, in France.  Not in Burundi.  Not in Seattle.  Not in a lot of other places but here, where we are the most socially disengaged than we’ve probably ever been.  We (of mid 60’s) are probably in the safest place we could be, since we only see each other, but we ache for others and find we can do little.

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Social distancing–waiting to go into store

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Inside of bus day before forced confinement.

My initial reaction was feeling  “stuck”, then helpless.  This has been quickly followed by disappointment, anger, grief, then grave concern as the spread of the pandemic has closed country after country.  We are deeply concerned for all but especially for the most vulnerable persons and countries (like Burundi and much of Africa) that have very limited health services and poor populations.  Like most everyone else, I experience all these emotions daily but there’s little I can do but keep away from others, follow the guidelines and PRAY.

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In the quietness and slowness of confinement not only am I humbled again to admit I have no control over anything (except my choices and reactions).  I’m continually having to make the conscious choice to graciously accept what has been given to me.  We could have been in so many other places or situations.  No one could have predicted this at this time.  Yet, here we are, while some others have it much worse and some better, this is where God has us at this time.  So as I’m given breath again this day, I will choose, as best I can, to live in humility with thankfulness, compliance with the confinement for the good of others and prayer for all those things beyond my control.

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Medical “Kits”

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Medical backpacks with their tools–“kits”

Often we give things to unknown people, perhaps through a donation, without any idea if it was helpful, useful, appreciated or in any way beneficial.  We see the ads on TV to support a child’s education in some far-off country and wonder if our dollars actually make a difference.  We send Christmas shoeboxes or backpacks for schools in hopes of blessing some unknown person’s life in a way that will go beyond a few happy moments and really change their life.  This is a testimony and affirmation to the benefits of giving and the recognition of a very generous donor who knows God sees the heart of the giver and the impact of their gift.

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First group of medical graduates from 2016 to receive “kits”

In 2016, this very generous supporter of the medical education at HAU donated about 200 medical backpacks, equipped with the necessary items to begin practicing medicine.  Most of the graduates since that time have already received a medical backpack and use it in their daily practice.  They have been the envy of all medical graduates in Burundi because not only is medical equipment hard to come by here (as are all things imported) but the cost makes them prohibitive to most, especially new medical graduates.

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In the last few months this same generous donor sent another 100 backpacks.  What generosity!

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Next wave of backpacks and tools.

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Medical students helping organize backpacks.

The backpacks, along with all the tools to go inside them, arrived in a container for Kibuye in the late fall.  One Saturday morning, Randy invited several of the graduating medical students over to assist in filling each backpack with the thirteen basic medical tools.   The students were happy to help—and see the contents, but would have to wait to receive their backpack until graduation in February.

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Excited to get their very own!

At the medical graduate’s party, Randy, along with two of the Kibuye doctors, Carlan and Ted, delighted in congratulating each graduate by name and giving them their long-awaited medical backpack.  It was so much fun to see their smiling faces as each one went up to shake hands and walk back to their seat with the equivalent of their first “little black bag”.  Many opened them right away to check out the contents, even though they already knew what was inside them.  They left that evening sporting their backpacks and huge, appreciative smiles.

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Handing out medical “kits” at party.

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Happy smiles!

Happily, this is a gift that will keep on giving.  For each doctor who has received this basic medical backpack goes on to use these tools to administer health care to a medically impoverished population that has for too long had too few doctors.  Just as we’ve been a part of changing that scenario so have many others who’ve given in a variety of tangible and intangible ways.   To all of you we say: Thank you!  We hope you will be affirmed in the power of giving and be reminded just how far reaching its effects can be.

 

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Riding the Wave of Affirmation

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HAU medical graduates of 2013 & 2014 with Dean Randy

Six years ago, when we arrived in Burundi this group of medical graduates was just beginning their training. Over the past six years HAU has graduated about 300 medical students, but this particular group stands out.   They were the ones who were just beginning their training when we arrived and Randy was unexpectedly, given the role of Dean of the medical school.  For him there has been a special connection with this group as he’s shepherded them through six years of classes, clinical training, obstacles, finances, failures and successes.  Graduation days are always events of great pride for all concerned but this one had more personal investment due to this unique connection.

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Kibuye colleagues

Together with colleagues from our sister team at Kibuye, other professors from HAU, dignitaries of the Free Methodist Church, the Ministry of Education, and proud parents and guests, we assembled to award and witness the graduation of over 600 students from a variety of departments.  For most this was a very long awaited day, representing many hurdles that had been overcome.  One student I had taught in an English graduate class a year ago stopped me for a photo.  She had come from Rwanda on a bus, 36 weeks pregnant, just to take my Advanced English class,  so she could finish her graduate nursing degree.  Now, a year later, she had completed all her requirements for a master’s in nursing.  She showed me the photo of her son, who was born shortly after the class I’d taught, then took my picture to show her family.  Just one such encounter makes all the hardship pale in comparison to the joy realized.

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Proud graduate, Theresa

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Medical graduates entering

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Handing out diplomas.

While the actual day of graduation, full of its pomp and circumstance was grand.  The next day’s  party for the medical graduates was by far “the icing on the cake”.  The students handled all the arrangements for the event (location, food, program) within the budget that had been given them.  Their camaraderie and community spirit were evident in every detail of the evening.  They gave time to honor those who had particularly aided them in their education from the librarian to professors to Kibuye doctors.  They wrote a special song about malaria, played a question/answer game with the different tables, featured one of their own who sings and plays guitar.  There was even a surprise wedding proposal during the program as one young man got down on his knee in the middle of the floor to pop the question to one of the graduates!  The young lady said “yes!”,  Of course, with the crowd of friends cheered her on.

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Graduates celebration at a local reception venue

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The surprise proposal!

Even with all this, the highlight was when the graduates honored Randy by lifting him up for an impromptu crowd-surfing and African dance.  It was a demonstration of their affection, appreciation and honor to him and the fact that they knew he would take it in good fun a further testimony to their mutual amity.

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Randy crowd-surfing!

As he said to them in his speech, their success has been his success and he is with them in his heart.  He sent them out with this commissioning “to whom much is given, much is expected”, and as they have been given much by many who have contributed to their education, they can  go, serve, and care for the sick and needy of their countries.

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Happy moments!

It’s moments like these that give us perspective and affirm our call to this place.   Our day-to-day work has a bigger impact in its cumulative effect.  Often it’s more than we can see. But these graduates reinforce why we came to HAU in Burundi, and why we continue; which is to train up a generation of leaders with capacity, integrity and compassion.  We stand with all those who have enabled them along this way, cheering them on as they go to do greater things.  Congratulations graduates!  Well done!

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Proud graduate, proud parents, proud dean.

 

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Thanksgiving Burundi Style

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Since Thanksgiving is a very American holiday it does not exist as a holiday in Burundi.  But the past six years our sister team at Kibuye has celebrated it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We are very happy to be invited each year, along with many other friends and the Burundian doctors from the Kibuye Hope Hospital.  While it’s a bit different than the U.S. holiday there are many similar elements–food, feasting, families, friends, thanks, inclusion, diversity and fun.  Do you know that old Thanksgiving folk song “Over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house we go?”? So here’s a Burundi version.

 

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Over the rough roads and up the hills

To Kibuye Hope we go

Aloys knows the way to stir thru the fray

Of obstacles high and low.

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Over the rough roads and up the hills

Oh, how all life does flow

It fills the streets with those it meets

As on their way they go.

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Past tea fields as we drive

We’ll share a cup to warm us up

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When Kibuye at last we arrive.

 

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See the goods on market day

No need to stop for all have brought

The foods for our feasting day.

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See how the children play

And look who’s here the new interns dear

All giving thanks today.

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Over the rough roads and up the hills

We’re all gathered here

To share the feast and bounteous peace

Of friends from far and near.

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What a great blessing to be apart of this community and celebrate our thanks to God together.  We are very thankful for all of them and for all of you who make it possible for us to be here.

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Up Into The Hills

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Another opportunity to get out of the city and take a walk in the hills presented itself before the rainy season began.  Six of us drove about thirty minutes east into the hills covered with small farms to walk/run a nine-mile circuit.  With the map downloaded to several phones the route was reviewed as we would be separating into a group of runners and walkers, and there are no trial markers or street signs here.

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Very quickly we were accompanied by curious children and greeted by others on the dirt road.  Not many “buzungus” (white people) come to these places so far “off the beaten track”, which made us the news of the day.  Unsure of the route we (walkers) were stopping often to consult the downloaded map on one of the phones.

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If we’d been able to ask the children in Kirundi which way the “buzungus” runners went, they could have easily told us.  When we strayed off the route, looking for the “turn to the left, up the hill” it was the children who were quick to tell us with gestures and pointing, ‘not that left, another left’.  Helpful as they were their number grew from just a few too many, making it a bit distracting to keep our pace.

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We were looking for a footpath that would take us off the main road and up to the top of a ridge.  Each hill is covered with a multitude of narrow footpaths leading in all directions to the different small plots of land with houses on them.  It’s easy to get sidetracked to a path that leads to someone’s house.

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Eventually the runners turned back to help us find the correct path which would ascend most directly to the top of the ridge. As we started up the path our runner companions were able to encourage the large group of children to stop escorting us.

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After a long ascent we found the top of the ridge and to our surprise a building under construction (perhaps a school).  We all contemplated how they had brought all the building materials up to this spot as there were no roads, just the footpaths we had climbed to get there.  Most likely all the materials were carried up on the same paths, balanced on the heads of those who live in this community.

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It was a beautiful view from the top.  Even in the haze of the dry season you could see the overlapping layers of hills off into the distance, dotted with farms all the way to the top.

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We followed the ridge line down and up again to the hill on the other side.  At one point we found we were off the trail so we had to cut through several plots of land with gardens and houses on a steep hill.  We were slipping on the steep trail in our tennis shoes but the locals were easily traveling up and down these trails in bare feet often with a basket or sack balanced on their head.  How do they do that? I kept wondering.  Though I’ve seen it hundreds of times it still amazes me.

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Eventually we found the road that would circle us back to the place we’d parked the cars.  On our descent we could look back on the ridge line we’d walked.  It had been a long walk!  Nearly 10 miles.  Once again it was such a privilege to experience the flora and fauna of this beautiful country, to walk in the countryside, to see those who live on and work the land, and grow in appreciation of the different ways people live upon the earth.

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Another Semester of English

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Five years ago, I wrote on this blog about how teaching students at HAU was one of the greatest privileges and joys of my living in Burundi. As I’ve just finished teaching two courses—one an English writing course with the new medical students and the other a graduate course, “Advanced English”—I can easily continue to echo that same sentiment.

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Although my expertise and experience has been with young children, teaching adults has been an unexpected pleasure.  I’m also very thankful that I was again assigned the new medical students, as it was a small class, only about 30 students and all very eager to improve their English and work hard.  For them taking the course was not just checking the box of completing the required general courses.  They understand the importance of English competency to enter into the larger global world in which English is the common language and in which most medical research is done.  So, they are ready to participate in any activity that will facilitate their learning and proficiency.

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Perhaps it’s my early childhood education background, I try hard to engage them in the learning process thru interactive learning, such as, small group tasks, activities that get them up out of their seats and journal writing, rather than allowing them to be passive learners by just lecturing and writing on the board.  The first few classes they don’t know what to make of me or what I’m asking them to do but they quickly warm up to it and take the invitation to engage.  Another added bonus this time was we were able to schedule their class twice per week which not only kept the momentum going but also allowed us to finish the course within two months rather than stretching on for four months, which is generally more beneficial in a language course.  I also really enjoy the fact that I got to teach the same students Randy interacts with as Dean of the Medical School, making our worlds overlap all the more.

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As the resident “native English speaker”, I have become the de facto Advanced English teacher for this graduate course.  This was my fourth time teaching this course and as the three times before I learn as much or more than the “students”.  The only drawback of this course is it’s an evening class since most of the students are working during the day.  That means I have to drive home in the dark (there are not street lights on the streets here) which is always a harrowing experience (dark people in dark clothes on dark streets).  Though I drive slow I’m always so afraid I might run into someone or something that I can’t see.  I’m truly thankful for God’s protection of me and others as I make the treacherous ride home over the three weeks of evening classes.

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Aside from that one drawback, I really enjoy the opportunity to teach this course.  There are always such interesting people in it and I get to hear about development in many areas of Burundi.  Usually there’s three or four different departments represented (community development/social work, law, nursing, business, theology, educational leadership) with a wide range of ages, jobs and experiences.  Most of the graduates know English but don’t have much opportunity to use their skills day to day, since everyone defaults to French and Kirundi, so I structure the course to get them to talk and listen using English as much as possible.  To this end I use a variety of topics to facilitate lots of small group discussions, role plays, debates and each student must give a five-minute presentation in English, in their domain, to the whole class.  Everyone brings something to the table and they are very willing to share and listen.  In their presentations I learn so much about what is happening around the country and the many obstacles they are facing as they live and work in Burundi and how these are being overcome.  I leave class each night energized by their enthusiasm, engagement and commitment to make life better.

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As these courses finish, once again I find I’ve received more than I gave.  I feel affirmed in what I had to offer and my life has been enriched by the sharing of hearts and minds.

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Mango, Our New Friend

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Mama Mango

Meet our new friend, Mama Mango, or Mango for short.  She has been living with us for about 4 months now.  In March, our other dog, Glo, died of what we believe was a pituitary tumor.  He was probably ten or eleven years old and was beginning to show his age, but once signs of the tumor began his decline was rapid.  We had adopted Glo when another family moved upcountry and couldn’t take a dog.  He’d been with us three years.  We had all become quite attached to him, even our guards, who had grown very accustom to him, so his death was sad for all of us.

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Glo when he first came to us.

In general, Burundians are afraid of dogs.  Perhaps due to not having many dogs in the country. The only dogs are guard dogs of one type or another, who bark loudly and look like they will bite you if you approach.  People who don’t have enough to eat don’t have a dog.  Any animals owned–goats, cows, pigs, chickens—are a source of food or income for food.  So, the idea of a “pet” is not part of this culture.  For the most part, it’s only ex-pats who have dogs here.

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Glo on guard duty.

No one who knows us, would describe us as “animal-lovers” or “pet owners”.  The only other time we had a dog was our seven years in the inner-city of St. Louis where, having experienced one robbery we decided a large dog was the best deterrent to further intruders.  That dog, Charlie, was both a watch dog and a companion to me during the many nights Randy had to stay at the hospital.  But after that, even when our children lobbied often for a pet dog, we knew the expense, effort and commitment of dog ownership, coupled with being an “on the go” family, we never entertained the idea of having another dog.

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Mango on guard duty.

Living cross-culturally brings many new things into one’s life, like night guards and owning a dog.  Thankfully, we live in a warm climate, so any dog is an outside dog. An added bonus is our house worker, makes her food, feeds her twice a day and takes her on a run (as he did with Glo).  Really it’s little work on our part to have a dog but with all the benefits of a watch dog.  After Glo died we knew we needed another dog to help guard our house.  To our surprise our guards also favored we get another dog, another indication they too had softened their view of dogs or pets.  Our only requirement was it had to be a nice dog because we have so many visitors and children staying with us.  And so, the search was on.

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A little skittish at first.

Unlike Glo, Mango was really nobody’s dog.  She lived around one of the missionary-church compounds where she seemed to scrounge for food and hang out.  Some short-termers who came with their own dog from the U.S. started taking care of her.  She played with their dog, went for runs with them and stayed by their door.  They were real animal lovers. They even took her to a vet when they saw she had an infection from a recent delivery of puppies.  The infection caused her to have a hysterectomy, which they paid for, and watched over her as she recovered.  They got quite attached to her but then it was time for them to leave.  Although they wanted to take her back to the U.S., they knew that would be prohibited.  A mutual friend put us in contact with them as we were looking to find another dog after Glo’s passing.  That’s how Mango came to live with us.

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She’s very gentle with children.

Mango was acclaimed for her sweet disposition.  An unexpected surprise from what you’d expect for a dog who seems to have been essentially a street dog.  I’ve witnessed her run across the yard, leaping up into the air to grab a bird taking flight and eat it.  To stay alive she’s had to be a survivor.  Yet, she wants to be loved and craves attention (not unlike most humans).  She wags her tail, lays down to have her tummy rubbed and eagerly runs to us whenever we return home or come outside the house.   She’s gentle with children and has quickly learned to “sit” for cookies.  While it’s taken about three months for her to begin to act protective about our property, barking at night when someone passes outside the gate, it seems at last she senses or accepts “belonging” here.   We are thankful for our new friend, Mango, for the deterrent she is to thieves but also that she is a really nice dog with a sweet disposition, even after her disadvantaged beginnings.  As did Glo, she is growing on us all, causing us to become more pro pet-ownership, at least for now.

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JUICED (something new in town)

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Entrance to JUICED

Some friends of ours opened a smoothie and juice bar at the entrance to the public gardens, called “JUICED”.  Like many small businesses here it’s built from a shipping container.  They were able to get permission to have the container moved right on to the garden’s property, adjacent to the entrance, but behind the garden’s fence.  They pay rent for the location but they get the advantage of the garden’s security.  Also, they were able to put in their own entrance so you don’t have to pay the garden entrance fee of 500BF (about a quarter) if you just want a smoothie.

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Last meeting before the summer break.

It’s very tastefully designed with a shady, flagstone patio and a grassy area so you can meet up with friends to enjoy your smoothie.  Our book club met there this month as well as the last women’s Bible study before taking our summer break.  It was delightful!  If you want to get some exercise, you can pay the garden fee, walk around the outer track several times, then end at JUCIED for a healthy, refreshing drink.  With a constant supply of fresh fruits there’s never a shortage on ingredients or a lack of new combinations to try.  That, coupled with affordable pricing, as they are the lowest priced smoothies in town, makes JUICED a new favorite for many.

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Menu

This past week I visited JUICED every day because our friends, the owners, were out-of-country and asked if I would “business-sit” for them.  I was happy to oblige since the last time they asked, I was unable to do so since I also was out-of-country.  It was a time full of good challenges and blessings for me.  One challenge meant driving every day into the chaos of the city during the week of parade practice for Independence Day (July 1st) when many roads when closed with detours.  This provided me with more opportunities to exercise patience and humility towards other drivers and to be thankful for continued safety.  (This is a little “tongue-in-cheek” for those who know about driving in our country.)  Another challenge was it pushed me into more situations to speak French as I searched for certain items, like straws or chocolate powder, things not on my usual shopping list.  Stepping out of my usual comfort zones was energizing because I was doing it for someone else and was happy to do so.

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Inside of the container–making smoothies.

 

The blessings came in getting to know the friendly, competent staff over the week, trying different smoothies and being surprised by the spirit of generosity shown to me in several situations.

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Claudine, manager.

For example, I asked the staff where I could find a red cabbage (since my usual store didn’t have one), they mentioned several places which I thought I’d try the next day. When I arrived the next day at JUICED, to see if they needed anything, the manager, Claudine, placed a huge red cabbage on the counter.  She said she’d gotten it at the market for me. I was so surprised that she’d done this for me!  I had no idea if she’d made a special trip, if the market was on her way to or from work (nor would she tell me) but the fact that she even remembered, bought it and carried it into work was humbling and impressive.  Thankfully, she did let me pay for it, which was cheap for me ($1.00) but likely expensive for her, and I’m sure she got it for a lower price than I would have.  Our friends have said what a great staff they have, my experience this week certainly confirmed that.

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Red cabbage compliments of Claudine.

Whereas I am not ready to take on a business myself after this experience, I am happy for those who are opening businesses that fill a niche, use local resources and promote good customer service and business practices while providing a quality product. I can only hope JUICED will inspire other similar types of ventures and I will happily “business- sit” again should the need arise.

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This one made with Japanese plu

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Beautiful Burundi

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Every time we make the 3-hour drive to/from Kibuye I’m struck by how beautiful this country is with its steep hills, patchwork farms in all shades of green flowing down the mountain sides dotted with banana and palm trees.  While many people are walking the paths between these plots of land, we are driving by in a car, unable to meander through the fields or enjoy the vistas.  I so often wish I could just get out and hike around the countryside. Last weekend my wish came true! One of our friends said he was organizing a hike in the Kibira National Forest for anyone who was interested, I jumped at the chance.

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Burundi is a very small and very populated country, with nearly every piece of available land is farmed to feed it’s 10.5 million people, but it has reserved three areas as national park lands, protecting its unique natural treasures.  So, twenty of us interested ex-pats took this opportunity and joined the hike.  We set out early from Bujumbura in five cars to the Kibira National Park located in the northwest of the country, about a 90-minute drive. Kibira National Park is situated among the extensive Teza tea fields.   For as far as our eyes could see there were the tea fields covering every hillside in undulating waves of bright green.  It was truly amazingly beautiful!

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One must have a guide to hike in the National forests, which our friend had already arranged.  We met them at a designated place where two guides got into our cars along with the two guards who would watch our cars while we hiked. (This is not because our cars would be unsafe but another employment opportunity.)  There were also the obligatory craft sellers with wood carvings of monkeys, crocodiles and walking sticks (in case you forgot yours) looking for an opportunity to sell their wares.

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The guides directed us on a long, 30-minute, drive through the tea fields.  Most of the driving was on one-lane, dirt roads but sometimes it became what seemed like footpaths they were so narrow. Eventually, we came around to what looked like the place we had started from.  When our friend asked the guide in our car about this the man said it was the “touristic route through the tea fields”, as in “Didn’t you want to drive through the tea fields?”  We were getting the whole experience for our park entrance fee.  Finally, we parked our cars on the side of a hill to follow our guide into the rainforest, leaving the other guards to “watch” our cars.

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Very quickly we were on a narrow trail covered with a canopy of thick foliage as we walked deeper into the rainforest.  There were some huge, old trees that reached way up to the sky along with the carpet of ferns, vines and smaller shade plants that filled the spaces all around us.

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We walked for about thirty minutes, slowly going downhill until we stopped at a large slanting rock face that had water pouring down it, creating a small waterfall before it tumbles into a winding creek. The guide said when there is more water the rock face becomes a slide. One of the more adventurous of the group waded in and sat at the base of the rock with the water flowing over him.  I think he would have tried it as a slide if there was more water.  The rocks at the bottom caused most of us to forego the experience.

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We continued on, now climbing upward, until we eventually emerged at the top of one of the tea fields.  Working our way through the tea bushes on the paths between the plots of growing plants we rounded a corner to find our cars where we had left them.

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It wasn’t a long hike, only about two miles in all, nor was it too strenuous a hike, but I was thankful for the guides because it would have been easy to get lost in the thick foliage.  Although we had heard there are some monkeys and different birds in this forest only one person said he saw a monkey.  I’m sure our large group walking, talking and tromping kept them well hidden.  All in all, it was a fun adventure into the countryside.  All of us ended the hike feeling deeply privileged for having experienced this corner of Burundi. It was such a pleasure to be able to walk through the rain forest, the tea fields, to see this beautiful place and to appreciate the conservation of this natural treasure.

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