Being a small impoverished country of 10 million people without an ocean coastline or safari animals, Burundi is generally included in tour books of East or Central Africa with just a few pages of acknowledgement. So I was shocked to discover this 384 page country guide of Burundi at a bookstore here in France. And bonus for language learning: it's in French! I've enjoyed reading this recently published (November 2012) book on Burundi and have learned a lot about our future home. The first third of the book gives a lengthy account of the history, culture, language, arts, etc. of the country as a whole and I share with you now some of the highlights:
- In the introduction and throughout the book, the emphasis is on the Burundian people. The authors explain that the best reason to visit Burundi is to encounter the people - to experience their friendly welcome and to learn of their culture and community and history. They emphasize the need to take time to experience Burundian hospitality and friendship - as opposed to trying to see and do many things on a Westerner's schedule. (One interesting side note on the differences of Western vs. Burundian time is that the words for "tomorrow" and "yesterday" are the same in Kirundi!) We've really enjoyed the opportunities we've had thus far to begin friendships with Burundians and we look forward to developing these relationships as a priority during our years ahead in Burundi. We appreciate your prayers for patience and wisdom with that long process and with the different concepts of time, too!
- Nature: Burundi is a beautiful country with rolling green hills, tropical vegetation, and even beaches on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. While lions and giraffes no longer live there, one can still find hippos and crocodiles and many species of tropical birds. I'm so thankful we get to live in a pretty place.
- Language: Official languages are French and Kirundi. Swahili is also spoken frequently, especially in the cities. And, as has been confirmed by John and Jason in their recent visits, in daily conversation, the three languages are often mixed together. To make things more complicated, Burundians often speak indirectly and even use parables to express themselves. Through oral traditions, they've shared history and culture with subsequent generations, and as only 58% of the population is literate, radio is still the primary means of media communication utilized. Though we've all come a long way in French this year, our journey towards effective (Fraswarundi?) communication is only beginning!
- History: While Burundi has a turbulent past through colonization (by Belgium) and independence (1962) followed by civil war in the 1990s, Burundians have been seeking peace in recent years. This is evident tangibly in a common greeting in Kirundi: "Amahoro", which means "Peace". The publishing of a guidebook for tourists is another evidence of improved peace and stability in the region. One interesting history fact is that David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley traveled through Burundi together in 1871 after their famous encounter, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?". There is a large stone outside Bujumbura erected to commemorate their meeting.
- Religion: The guidebook estimates that 60% of the population is Catholic, 15-20% Protestant, and 10-15% Muslim. But it also emphasizes the widespread following of traditional beliefs, including "sorcellerie" (witchcraft - animism). Please pray for wisdom for us as we seek to share the power of Jesus triumphing over the fear of evil spirits.
- Random facts: Burundian drummers are quite skilled - originally utilized during the time of the monarchy for official ceremonies, now primarily for tourism. Food staples are cassava, bananas, potatoes, and beans. Primary exports are coffee and tea. Football (soccer) is well loved in the country, especially by President Nkurunziza who used to be a football coach and professor of physical education. Running is also commonly practiced - of note, a Burundian won an Olympic gold medal in the 5000m race in Atlanta in 1996.