August 2, 2008  Burundi

I'm sitting in an office Saturday afternoon/evening almost 6pm. I was in this place last year at this time and feel like a bit of a homecoming. My stay in the Uvira, South Kivu, Democratic Rep. of the Congo, was very rewarding in seeing how participants were so eager and responding to the idea of mediation(see photo). They had had a training three weeks prior to me over the same material. I presented the process probably somewhat differently, spending more time on practice than theory, mainly because my French wasn't sufficient to talk theory. The interesting thing is I'm hearing English spoken for the first time in six days. We lived, ate, slept and breathed French and Swahili. If I stayed there a month I would be fairly competent. 

Congo is an easy place to love, fear and be overwhelmed. The fear part I didn't really experience like the adults in my class have during much of their lives. They've been widowed, lost children, and put into a refugee situation by war over the years.Many had fled up the hills behind where I was staying. Then when the guerrillas got chased out of town, they too went up in the hills and took advantage of the refugees.

They left the town in ruins and eventually the refugees came crawling back. There are lots of orphans in the town. One of the coordinateurs of the event, Mannaseh Kisopa, has adopted five children plus his and his wife's two , and there are six others living at his house that he plans to adopt by the end of the year.

He works at a number of jobs teaching and his wife does as well. Their house is small and all of the children sleep on matts on a dirt floor sqeezed tightly together. It is beyond our ability to understand , but these kids have it better than the ones on the street that lack a set of loving adults. 

I fell for a little one that came to the Center and is loved and looked after by everyone there. The staff call her Cherie, but her real name is Rosine(photo). She is outgoing and boisterous and shy and has a beautiful smile. She calls me white guy, 'mzungu' , but I taught her to say, George. She is about two and a half and lives with her maternal grandmother(photo). No means of income that I can tell. Grandma keeps her clean and cared for. She was trimining her toenails with a razor blade yesterday when I came up to talk to them. Apparently the mother went crazy and is nowhere to be found. No one knows anything about the father. She could be a child of rape, but that is only speculation.

She and I said goodbye and Leon Alenga the center director was in town getting a cab and sent a mototaxi up for me. I road it down to the main road and we headed downtown til a taxi honked for us to stop. It contained Leon. We travelled in style to the border and sailed through both sides.. They told me at the Rwandan border that my visa would only be good for three days , so I may be late again to start the next class if I have to stay here until Monday when the visa office opens. We'll see. Adrien Nyiangobo the local director, said it may be possible that someone does the visa thing for me and that I go up to Gitega tomorrow, Sunday and thus be on time. Andrew Peterson was in the Friends Peace Center Office here in Bujumbura. We had met up in Kigali several weeks ago. He will spend most of his time down here. 

Leon had to go for another taxi, but we went throught the big market where I got pickpocketed last year and also someone tried to cut into my rucksack then. This year I got out with everything. I wanted to buy something for Rosine that Leon would take back. Found a little skirt and tee shirt and jacket that she will like. Real girly girl. Jane Skogstrom, there's a great project for you here in the Congo teaching sewing to ladies. The Peace Center trains women for six months on sewing clothing and then they are out. They have made some quilts but could use some design expertise and also all the other stuff. They have treadle machines. They cost about $150 but the ladies can't afford one when they get out, so their only hope is to get a job working for someone else if that is possilble. They need a coop organizer or someone in Microfinance to help them into working at home with their own machine if they can ever find a way. The living conditions are a bit rough but manageable. If someone wants more information. Just ask. When I was in Uvira, I was curious how people with so few means could afford glasses. I learned from them that some had eye exams in Bujumbura for ten dollars and paid twenty dollars for prescription glasses. Did a bit of shopping around this afternoon and bought a pair. The prescription was taken off my lenses, and I got an upscal frame for sixty dollars and bifocal lenses for sixty. At home they were over five hundred. They send the order to India and they are ground, assembled and shipped here in ten days. If they don't make it before I leave in twelve days, they will send them on. Last night at the Center a Mr. Saidi Sango, a sociologist, researcher came to see what I was doing. He is from here, a member of the Bembe tribe. We talked about culture and he was quite intersted in Restorative Justice and was able to elaborate and compare it to traditional Congolese justice and British Law. He has published a book on local culture and sold me a copy and when he brought it to me showed me a revue that had some references to Restorative Justice. I gave him the name of Mark Umbreit at U. of Minnesota, who is one of the American proponents of the process which came to us from the Aborigines of Australia and the Maoi's of New Zealand. The Congo is rewriting their laws and does not want to use any local , traditional law as there are over 400 tribes there and if one's laws were used, they others might be offended. But maybe the Restorative Justice process could in some way be in corporated. He has some contacts and input into this, I think. I think you might get some pictures with this. I've managed to compress the pictures and they may transmit. We'll see.

Thursday we walked down the hill into town to go to the internet cafe in Uvira. Stopped at the beach first. A few ladies selling sun dried fish that smell awful but are very nutritious. In Zimbabwe they were caught in Lake Kariba and called kapenta. Don't know the name here. They are about the size of a minnow. The internet cafe was the fastest that I've seen in Africa. Got a lot of reading done in an hour for two dollars. Twice as expensive as elsewhere. After the internet cafe, we stopped at the Blue Cat House Restaurant(photo). I explained the meaning of the term in my culture to their less than enthusiastic understanding. I probably already mentioned my one host , Mannaseh Kisopa. He and his wife Rachel have a child, two and a half and an eighteen year old. Quite a spread. One in between had died. They are taking care of 9 other children, all found on the streets. Lots of school fees, clothes and food to keep going, so if any of you are looking for a family for a fundraiser or a donation, keep them in mind. I left him a hundred dollars to make sure the oldest finished school this year. He was going to hold her out to enable a bunch of the little ones to go to school. We have one chief of a village in our class, Bahuga Rayembe. His wife had a new baby Wednesday, number 12. The class broke out in spontaneous song when he announce that news. All for tonight, August 2, 2008.

More recent photos:



August 21, 2008
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