Having accomplished the rare “just before departure” blog communication a couple weeks ago, I have been wanting to follow that up with some initial thoughts on returning to Burundi.
It is the rainy season here in Burundi, and today was a sunny day. What that means is that the rains still come, but they come quick and sharp and are followed by period of bright equatorial sunshine. Within a half an hour, the temperature drops fifteen degrees, and this has happened multiple times today. As soon as the big dark clouds pass, the sun comes back out, and I take my jacket off. Again. I have some bread dough rising, and I have pulled it onto the porch and then back into the sunshine multiple times in the two hours since I made it.
It struck me that today’s weather is a pretty good image for what it’s like to come back to Kibuye.
After a long series of flights, we arrived ragged and exhausted to stay at a guesthouse near the airport. I slept well that first night (having slept zero during the journey) and when I awoke, I heard birds. It’s the sound of the year-round six o’clock East African sunrise, and I’ve grown to love it over the past six years. I walked out onto the back veranda and saw palm trees and bright flours. I heard the distinctive ibis call. After a while, we wandered over to breakfast and had a scalding cup of chai and a mediocre (but distinctively Burundian) omelette. It was all wonderful, and I realized how much I had missed it.
I’ve had a lot of moments like that. The kids running around the neighborhood, playing outdoors for hours at a time. The return of Friday night homemade pizza. The green hills all around and warm greetings from friends. I was walking up to the hospital in the rain yesterday to round. I was carrying my umbrella, and a lady that I passed was hurrying along with a mid-sized banana leaf over her head. They are the warm and sunny moments.
Yet there are other times. On Wednesday, three out of my eight hospitalized patients died in the space of twelve hours. For at least one of them, I kept wondering the entire next day whether I could have avoided his death if I had done something different. One of the others was a young mother in her thirties, dying slowly from liver cancer. We would go and see her every day, watching her waste away, being cared for by her ten year-old daughter.
The overall transition has been more than we expected, which is probably just a sign of misplaced expectations. But much has changed. It took several pretty full days to move back into our house. We have met lots of new teammates. There are some solutions to old problems, but now there is a whole new set of problems to navigate. It felt like we had been gone a long time. However, a couple weeks later, that time seems to be quickly shrinking.
I’m thankful for the cloudy moments as well. Being back in the hospital has been a good reminder of just how worth doing this work is. These problems are worth working to solve. It is, in fact, a joyful thing to be able to be a part of it. There is a lot of goodness happening all around us. Yes, there are many things we have to put up with. Yes, the power can go out for 3 days at a time. Yes, I have to keep bringing the dough under the porch eaves, because it is raining for the third time in three hours. But in the end, the dough will rise, and the bread will be made. It may just need a little more time.
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” - Matthew 13:33