Rural Burundian Cuisine

Burundi has been called the hungriest nation on earth.  Studies by the IFPRI in 2013 and 2014 determined the GHI (Global Hunger Index) for 120 countries, and Burundi scored the most hungry.  One study concluded that 73% of the population of Burundi is undernourished. 

So what do people in rural Burundi eat?  Well, mostly what they can grow.  The vast majority of rural Burundians are subsistence farmers, eating from their own gardens.  Most can not afford to eat prepackaged foods that are sold in the cities.  Especially not these days, as prices for imported and packaged goods are rising.

This spring we took a field trip to see how a Burundian friend prepares her meals.  This is what we learned.

It is no surprise that Burundian women work very hard to prepare food for their families.  Here are some pictures of working hard in action.  After hoeing and cultivating, women harvest food from their gardens.  Here our friend Thérèse harvests manioc, which is like a starchy bland potato.  

Then the women chop firewood

and carry water from the well 

so that they can cook their manioc and pumpkins

or beans.

Another common dish is peas with chopped pumpkin leaves.

The stems of the leaves are peeled like this 

and then boiled using wood-burning brick ovens like this one.

After a whole lot of work to prepare it, the finished product tastes good and is filling.  With no added sugar, preservatives, colors, or flavorings.   Unfortunately this local diet, while high in organic fresh produce, does not contain high levels of protein, calcium, or calories.  More protein-rich foods such as meat, milk, and even eggs are too expensive for the majority of our patients at Kibuye.  In fact, UNICEF reports that 58% of children in Burundi are chronically malnourished.  Stay tuned for another blog post highlighting one of the ways that Kibuye Hospital helps to improve nutrition in our area.

Despite widespread hunger, Burundian people are hospitable and eager to share what they have with guests.  We are grateful for friends in this community like Madame Thérèse with whom we can share food and time together.



by Rachel

I think these past months are possibly the longest time in the history of our blog (which began in 2008) that I have not shared a post or two with our readers.  It's difficult for me to elucidate why.  We are not too busy with our lives in the US; it seems more of a sense of not knowing what to say.  For the first time ever we're not getting ready for something, or doing the work we set out to do.  To be clear, Serge asks their missionaries to spend about 80% of their time in the field (Burundi) and 20% of their time in their home culture (US).  Eric and the kids and I have been back in the US since April and our trip had nothing to do with upcoming elections or potential violence.  It was just our turn to go, and we will be here through January of 2016 at which time we have every intention of heading back to Kibuye.

It's been an interesting several months here in America and several times I have sat down to write a blog and come up empty.  There's all the talk of reverse culture shock, but others have written excellent posts about that already, many of which I have read on Facebook.  Perhaps you have, too, or perhaps I just see a lot because I have a lot of missionary friends. :)  They detail everything from the overwhelming cereal aisle in the grocery store to the uncomfortable feeling of never being able to "go home."  I don't really feel like I have anything else to say on the subject.  Eric and I were prepared for most of these feelings already and the only irrational urge I got those first few weeks was to stand in the middle of the Super WalMart store and yell at the top of my lungs, "People, you have no idea!"  There's just So. Much. Stuff.  And so many choices and options and alternatives and products that you didn't even know existed but now can't live without.

Then there's been everything going on in Burundi, which feels to us like the elephant in the room every time someone or no one writes a blog post.  We have always striven to remain politically neutral on our blog and so many times it seems best to not say anything at all, and just pray instead of write.  When the coup went down, now 6 wks ago, those 36 hours seemed to stretch on for weeks for me.  I thought about Burundi and its people and our team and all the implications almost constantly.  And many said to me, "I'll bet you're so glad not to be there right now."  It was difficult to try to explain that in fact in so many ways I DID want to be there right then.  Burundi has become my home.  My team is there, my friends are there, my work is there, even my house and my stuff are there.  And while I didn't relish the idea of making a decision to stay or go, I wanted to be in the midst of it all.

So, now our family is in Michigan until December.  We enjoyed 2 months with Eric's family in Nashville.  We're settling in to our little place in Ann Arbor.  Eric and I are working several days a week, the kids are going to VBS at Knox, and we're looking forward to putting Maggie and Ben in school this fall.  It's been awesome to be present for birthdays and births, to see old friends and supporters, to connect in new and different ways, to revisit what it means to live an American life.  We own a mini van and 2 smart phones, and I go to the grocery store 3 times a week and watch videos on Amazon Prime.  It's been fun, but even life here in America has become cross cultural to us.  I am a westerner who lives in an African country, and many of the cultural practices in America have become foreign.  There are days when I love being here, and days when I miss the purpose of being in Burundi.  I had figured out how to live in Burundi; now, I need to figure out how to live in America again.  I need to figure out, in a world where everything is available and possible, what is worth spending my time and money on.  And how to stay connected to Burundi, and keep my kids connected.  I'm sure we'll get there, or get closer, as the months go by, just in time to return to Kibuye in January!

There's really nothing profound here, but hopefully this helps people know what's floating around in my head when you see me and ask how we're "transitioning."  And I hope it helps me transition into writing about our American experiences more on the blog.  We hope to see many of you in the months to come!  Drop us a line if you want to come visit us in Ann Arbor this summer/fall.


Prayer and David Crowder Promises

(from Eric)

I really like David Crowder.  For one, if he hadn't created the genre of bluegrass-techno, I'm not at all convinced that someone else would have done so.  And we are certainly better off for it.  Plus, his giant beard was way ahead of its time.

But today, listening to his music, I realized what I like the most.  Promises.  He sings about God's promises, and the bigger and brasher the better.  The promise that I, personally and individually, will be saved is a glorious one, far more glorious than I could ever hope to merit.

"Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can't heal."

Now, that's a promise on a whole different scale.  I want to believe it.  And then I think of friends struggling with the same old thing for the 4th decade.  I think of patients cut down with some awful diagnosis way too early in life.  And, most significantly these days, I think of the lovely land of Burundi, and the wonderful people there whose pains and uncertainties and fears stretch back generations.

"Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can't heal."

That's nice, but let's get practical.

"Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save."

That sounds like the same thing, but that's no bearded songster with an affection for banjos.  That's Isaiah 59.  That's why David Crowder can sing what he does.  Seven or eight years ago, he sang another one:  

"Everything will change.  Things will never be the same."

And yet sometimes it feels like nothing substantial will ever change, and that basically, things will always be the same.  The fears and the doubts will still be there.

"I am making all things new."

"All things," Jesus says.  Could there be any promise bolder than that?  Can we believe that?  Yes.  Sort of.  A little bit.  Sometimes.  In those rare moments when everything is lining up really well.

And that's the point of a promise.  To give us an anchor.  Something to hold onto while storms rage.  When we are filled with doubts.  Somewhere in the Sonship course, the comment was made that sometimes you have to start singing the song to really believe it.  Sometimes, when we embrace something, when we step out on it, we find that we understand it a bit more deeply than we did before.  It's maybe the difference between knowing about something, and knowing something by experiencing it.  And something like that is what Christians are called to do when they are called to be people of "faith".

Prayer is helplessness.  (according to O. Hallesby)  We come to God over and over again with all the things that we cannot do.  With the problems that don't go away, within us, without us, among us.  Everywhere.  We lay them at his feet.  We commit them to him.  We don't have solutions.  But if we are coming, then we are, in a sense, holding to the promises.  We are people of faith.  Maybe not always faith that things will go a certain way.  But faith that the promise-maker is strong.  He is sure. And he is loving.  He has shown us that, once and for all, in the life and work of Jesus.  So, let us sing the song.


Song: Ubuntu bg' Imana

Several years ago, I was given a book by Chuck Jacob which was based on a Burundian hymn (of all things).  The hymn was written in the early 20th century in Kirundi by a man named Emmanuel Sibomana.  An Anglican missionary translated it into English, and this was used as the structure for this book on the subject of the grace of God.  I enjoyed the text and the meter, but not knowing the tune, I wrote one for it (posted here back in 2012).

We've sung it as a team from time to time in worship, and when we got to Burundi, we procured a few Burundian songbooks.  As soon as I learned a bit of vocabulary, I found a hymn entitled "Ubuntu bg' Imana" ('the grace of God') which had the right number of stanzas.

Later on, at Kibuye, I asked some of the med students at our bible study if they knew the tune.  Several did, and they agreed to let me record them one night after bible study.

Then, this past month at home in Nashville, my brother-in-law Jonathan and I did a recording of it, first in English, with several stanzas of the med students singing the original in Kirundi at the end.  

Click here to download and play.  (Sorry, I can't seem to find a reliable online player)

O how the grace of God amazes me
It loosed me from my bonds and set me free
What made it happen so?
His own will, this much I know,
Set me, as now I show
At liberty.

My God has chosen me, though one of nought,
to sit beside my King in heaven's court.
Hear what my Lord has done
O, the love that made him run
to meet his erring son!
This God has wrought.

Not for my righteousness, for I have none.
But for his mercy's sake, Jesus, God's Son,
suffered on Calvary's tree-
Crucified with thieves was he-
Great was his grace to me,
His wayward one.

And when I think of how, at Calvary,
He bore sin's penalty instead of me.
Amazed, I wonder why
He, the sinless One, should die
For one so vile as I;
My Saviour he!

Now all my heart's desire is to abide
In him, my Saviour dear, in him to hide.
My shield and buckler he
Covering and protecting me;
From Satan's darts I'll be
safe at his side

Lord Jesus, hear my prayer, your grace impart;
When evil thoughts arise through Satan's art,
O, drive them all away
And do you, from day to day,
keep me beneath your sway,
King of my heart.

Come now, the whole of me, eyes, ears, and voice
Join me, creation all with joyful noise:
Praise him who broke the chain
Holding me in sin's domain
And set me free again
Sing and rejoice...



by Jason

Here is another Case of the Week.  Actually, new BBFFs have come in every week lately.  In January an orthopedic surgeon and friend of ours came to visit for a couple of weeks.  During that time he showed me how to fix Both Bone Forearm Fractures (BBFFs) with plates and screws.  Until that time I was casting them, which gives far inferior results, such as the two forearm bones fusing together and severely limiting rotation of the forearm.

The orthopedic surgeon also helped me dig through years of old ortho equipment that had accumulated in the hospital, some of which we were able to re-purpose.  For example, we sawed off the corner of some old hip plates, and now I can use them in patients like this 10 year old boy who had a femur fracture.

For the forearm fractures we found a number of plates and screws that have been working well.  Unfortunately, I have been running out of the right sizes of hardware, and so sometimes the night before the operation, I have to go to the shop and cut some screws/plates to the right size in anticipation of the next day's surgery.

Despite the lack of good hardware, by God's grace the patients have always had fine results.  That being said, if you have any extra plates or screws lying around, let me know :)