Most of the people in Burundi grew up in a war. Civil war ravaged the country for years and years, shutting down development, education, everything. Peace came about 8 years ago, and we are thankful for it's stability up to the present.
Now we live in a little town of about 18,000 in an alpine valley of France. It is well developed and education is readily available. However, if you keep your eyes open, there are little reminders. All three of these pictures were taken within a 8-minute walk of our school.
|In honor of 3 citizens of Albertville, victims of the Nazi repression|
|In honor of a man tortured by the Nazis who died at the Dachau concentration camp|
|Monument for the victims of WWI and WWII, not from just our small town of Albertville, but just the single parish of St. Sigismond, where we live. (Sorry for being unable to rotate this picture.)|
There is a distinct difference here between Europe and the US, where we grew up. Both our countries fought in the world wars, but France was far more in the thick of it. Their country was occupied by Nazi forces. Their sons died far more frequently. There is not a village, however small (and they get quite small around here), where there is not a monument for the men of that village who died in the world wars.
And so the post-war reminders in Albertville remind me of Burundi. The two countries couldn't be less alike in a lot of ways, but the common thread is that it's hard to remember that you're in a post-war country. Here, it's hard to imagine. Our tranquil little town being occupied by foreign forces, being the site of a resistance whose members were sometimes killed for their dissent.
In Burundi, it is also hard to imagine. There are few memorials and a shocking lack of rubble and bullet-marked buildings.
|A recent picture around Kibuye Hospital, Burundi|
That is about where the commonality ends. In France, there are memorials, but the current generation has grown up in peace and relative prosperity. In Burundi, the wounds are much fresher. Every med student that we work with, and nearly every patient (unless they grew up outside the country), grew up in a war. And yet, interestingly, the impoverished people of Burundi may be overall more optimistic about life than the French.
The fact that we will be working with individuals and a society that is so impacted by recent war is a fact for which we do not yet know the implications. How will this affect us? Will it be just under the surface all the time and pop out at unexpected moments? Will it be talked about openly? Will it be talked about at all? We don't know yet. However, for all their differences, I'm glad for the small reminders here in France of what will undoubtedly be an important issue later on in Burundi.